Premier Silvio Berlusconi held talks with Moammar Gadhafi on Monday aimed at promoting the two nations’ economic ties, but public attention remained focused on the Libyan leader’s efforts to persuade Italians to convert to Islam.
Gadhafi arrived in Rome a day earlier and promptly gave a lesson on Islam to a few hundred young Italian women recruited by a modeling agency and paid to attend the lecture. Gadhafi handed out copies of the Quran, urged the women to convert, and participants said three young women converted on the spot.
On Monday, he had another session with many of the same young women, who arrived by the busload. Some were modestly dressed. Others tottered on high heels and wore dresses with plunging necklines. At least two were seen wearing a Muslim-style veil. Another woman showed off a necklace she was given with a photo of Gadhafi dangling from it.
A few women leaving the session told Associated Press Television that Gadhafi lectured them again about religion. Another woman told Sky TG24 TV that the Libyan leader told them that women in his country had more freedom than those in the United States.
Rocco Buttiglione, head of the Union of Christian Democrats, told La Repubblica daily Monday–apparently in jest–that if he were to go to Libya to try to persuade Muslims to convert to Christianity, “you can bet I wouldn’t come back in one piece.”
The small opposition Italy of Values party protested outside the Libyan Embassy, with Sen. Stefano Pedica telling APTN that Gadhafi was “making fun of our country, from the moment he stepped down from his plane.”
As part of the friendship treaty, Libya agreed to crack down on the thousands of African migrants who set off from Libyan shores for Italy. Berlusconi’s key coalition partner in his conservative coalition is the anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Under the treaty, Italy agreed to pay Libya $5 billion over 20 years as compensation for its 30-year occupation. Most of that money will come in the form of Italy’s building a highway across Libya, from the border with Egypt to the border with Tunisia. Three consortiums of Italian companies will be involved in that ambitious project.
The longtime Libyan leader used his nearly 40-minute speech to urge the European Union to pay Libya “at least euro5 billion (almost $6.5 billion) a year” for Tripoli to stop the waves of clandestine African migrants who sail from the country’s Mediterranean shores in smugglers’ boats toward Western Europe.
Otherwise, Gadhafi warned, some day, Europe “could turn into Africa” with million of immigrants.