Gaddafi keeps hosts guessing on eve of first official visit to Spain

18th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

Libyan leader invites ex-PM Aznar for dinner before start of official meetings.

17 December 2007

SEVILLE - Longtime Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi arrived in Spain on Saturday ahead of a two-day official visit - his first to Spain in the 38 years since he rose to power on the back of a military coup.

The Libyan leader, who arrived in Seville at four in the afternoon Saturday, travelled in his usual high-profile manner, with three private planes carrying a retinue of 300 attendants and Gaddafi's trademark Bedouin tent which was pitched outside the Hacienda La Boticaria, a luxury hotel outside the city, where his people occupied 115 of the 127 rooms. By some estimates, the trip will cost close to half a million euros.

On Saturday night, Gaddafi dined privately with former Prime Minister José María Aznar and his wife Ana Botella. According to reports, the meal consisted of freshly sacrificed lamb prepared by Gaddafi's personal cooks.

It was the second meeting of Aznar and Gaddafi after, in 2003, the former Popular Party leader became the first head of government to visit Libya after the UN Security council lifted the trade and air embargo in place since 1992, when the colonel refused to hand over suspects of the Lockerbie plane bombing. Hotel sources said the Libyan group left the premises at three in the afternoon on Sunday.

Man of mystery
Gaddafi's plans during his private stay in Andalusia have been shrouded in mystery. Although Malik Ruiz, president of Spain's Islamic Community, which is building a mosque in Seville, had said he would meet with Gaddafi, that meeting was cancelled, as was another meeting with representatives from field workers' union Sindicato de Obreros del Campo.

On Monday, Gaddafi is scheduled to fly to Madrid and meet with King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Defense Minister José Antonio Alonso is expected to receive Gaddafi at the airport in Madrid and escort him to the El Pardo palace, where Zapatero will be waiting to greet him before the Bedouin tent is pitched on the grounds.

Zapatero and Gaddafi will meet again Monday afternoon at Moncloa palace for a "work meeting" before dinner. Zapatero is expected to convey to Gaddafi that Libya is a "fundamental" country in the Mediterranean region and that this trip represents a "stimulus" for bilateral relations, government sources said.

On Tuesday, the colonel is due to meet with representatives from some of Spain's main companies before having lunch with the king and queen at the Royal Palace.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ M. MORGADO / SUSANA URRA 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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