AFP, December 7, 2007
On the eve of a state visit to France, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi did not shy from controversy in Lisbon Friday, calling on European countries to compensate for colonialism ahead of an EU-Africa summit.
“The colonial powers must compensate the people they colonised and whose riches they plundered,” Kadhafi said in a speech at Lisbon University, a day before European and African leaders gather for a key summit to shore up ties between the two regions.
Kadhafi is expected to be equally visible in Paris, where he will bring a heated Bedouin tent to receive guests during a five-day state visit that begins Monday, a spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday.
The tent will be erected in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, the 19th- century mansion next to the Elysee palace which is used as an official guest-house on state visits.
“It is a desert tradition which Colonel Kadhafi respects to the letter,” said David Martinon.
The Libyan leader’s visit—his first to France since November 1973 when he was welcomed at the Elysee by then president Georges Pompidou—marks warming relations between the two countries.
Details of the trip remain vague, but Martinon said Sarkozy would receive Kadhafi on Monday afternoon and again on Wednesday.
The Libyan leader will visit the National Assembly, where a committee of parliamentarians is investigating France’s rapprochement with Libya five months ago.
Martinon said talks between the two leaders would focus on the fight against terrorism, which has “for a long time been a shared concern.”
“The whole international intelligence community can only be thankful for the cooperation of the Libyan intelligence services,” he said.
According to Martinon, France hopes to secure more contracts during the visit in energy, nuclear power, agriculture and health. Other issues of mutual concern are Sarkozy’s call for a Mediterranean union, oil prices, and efforts to halt illegal migration from Africa.
In an interview published Friday on the website of France’s Le Figaro daily Kadhafi’s son, Seif el-Islam Kadhafi, said his father would sign several contracts including for Airbus planes and a nuclear reactor.
“Of course (we will sign contracts). We are going to buy more than three billion euros of Airbus (planes), a nuclear reactor and we also want to buy several pieces of military equipment,” the younger Kadhafi was quoted as saying.
He also said negotiations were underway about possibly purchasing Rafale fighter jets from Dassault. The French company last year signed an agreement to service Mirage F1 jets bought after Kadhafi’s 1973 visit.
Kadhafi’s visit was triggered by the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused in Libya of infecting children with HIV/AIDS. Sarkozy’s ex-wife Cecilia played a role in brokering the release, and the president visited Tripoli in July.
The two countries then signed commercial and military accords, including arms sales and an agreement to build a nuclear reactor for water desalination.
The circumstances have become a political controversy in France, where the government denies opposition charges that it bought the nurses’ freedom by offering inducements.
Franco-Libyan relations have steadily improved since a 2004 accord on a Libyan compensation deal for the victims of a French DC-10 airliner bombing over Niger. The 1989 crash killed 170 people, including 54 French.
The upturn paved the way for a visit by President Jacques Chirac in November 2004. The two countries resumed defence cooperation in February 2005.
But opposition French politicians and intellectuals criticised the Kadhafi visit as an affront to victims of Libyan “terrorism”.
“One cannot invite on a state visit a grand terrorist and international hostage-taker like Kadhafi. It’s not possible. In the country of the Rights of Man, there are some things that just go too far,” said the philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy.