Gaddafi in first visit to ex-colonial power Italy

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi welcomed Gaddafi on a trip Rome hopes will close a painful chapter in the two countries’ past.

The visit by Gaddafi, his first to Italy since taking power in a 1969 coup, is one of the few in the West since economic sanctions were lifted after Libya vowed to stop sponsoring terrorism.

Rome has pulled out all the stops for Gaddafi, whose North African country supplies a quarter of Italy’s oil and is a source of much-needed capital for Italian companies amid the global financial crisis.

A $5 billion reparations deal last year paved the way for the visit.

But, to the chagrin of some of the Italian hosts, Gaddafi arrived with a picture pinned to his chest that was a stark reminder of Italy’s past as a repressive colonial power.

To the right of a battery of multi-coloured insignia on his military jacket was a picture of Libyan resistance hero Omar Al-Mukhtar in chains alongside his Italian captors.

And just for good measure Gaddafi brought along al-Mukhtar’s son, now an elderly man who had to be helped off the plane by a bevy of security men and who later sat in a wheelchair on the tarmac while national anthems were played.  

"A long, painful chapter with Libya has been closed," Berlusconi told reporters at the airport before Gaddafi, who carried a black baton under his left shoulder, went to a state lunch with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

"I praise this generation of Italians for having resolved the issues of the past with great courage," Gaddafi told reporters.


Italy ruled Libya from 1911 to 1943 in a hugely expensive exercise without ever being able to control the country fully. Gaddafi has repeatedly lambasted Italy over colonial rule, but the two nations have long maintained close business ties.

Libya has been increasingly flexing its financial and political muscle on the world stage since international sanctions were lifted in 2003.

Gaddafi is also set to address Italy’s business community, which is looking for signs that Libya will continue to funnel its petrodollars into Italian companies after high-profile stake purchases in UniCredit and Eni last year.

While Italy’s political and business community are expected to fawn over Gaddafi and his entourage with the hopes of sealing more business deals, he will also face protests.

Amnesty International is planning a protest in a central Rome square to bring attention to what it says is Libya’s poor human rights record.

Protests are also planned when Gaddafi addresses students at Rome University on Thursday. Some senators have also balked at allowing Gaddafi to become only the third non-Italian to address the Senate. Leftist lawmakers have announced a boycott  

A meeting with Italians expelled from Libya after Gaddafi seized power is scheduled for Saturday, but the Jewish community who fled the North African nation have refused to meet on the Sabbath.

Several areas in Rome have been blocked off for the visit, including a lush park where a tent has been pitched for Gaddafi to receive guests.