Chirac visit to Tripoli sealsKadhafi rehabilitation

25th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

TRIPOLI, Nov 24 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac, who arrived in Libya Wednesday on the first visit by a French head of state, expressed the desire for a "true partnership" with Tripoli after years of "heavy turbulence".

TRIPOLI, Nov 24 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac, who arrived in Libya Wednesday on the first visit by a French head of state, expressed the desire for a "true partnership" with Tripoli after years of "heavy turbulence".

Speaking to about 200 people at the residence of the French ambassador, Chirac said he wished to "rebuild a strong dialogue and to establish a true partnership" with Libya, after years in which the North African country had supported terrorism.

Welcoming Chirac with a military guard of honour at the vast Bab Azizia palace, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi met the French president, accompanied by three ministers and a trade delegation, for 45 minutes.

Kadhafi said he was "happy to welcome a friend, and honoured that the president of the republic came to Libya," said Chirac's spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont.

After the military honours, Kadhafi, dressed in a traditional brown tunic guided Chirac through the ruins of the complex that still bears the traces of a US bombing raid in 1986. They then drove by limousine for talks in a tent.

The French president's 24-hour trip to Tripoli gives France the chance to stake a claim for lucrative business contracts that should follow Kadhafi's promise to liberalise the oil-rich country's heavily controlled economy.

Kadhafi, who came to power in a 1969 coup, has undergone a spectacular diplomatic reversal in the last year since agreeing to stop developing weapons of mass destruction, denouncing terrorism and acknowledging responsibility for the Lockerbie and UTA plane bombings in the 1980s.

Evoking those bombings, and a 1986 Libyan attack on a West Berlin nightclub, Chirac said those affairs had now "come to an end, after a great deal of work and perseverance, and respect for the memories of the victims.

In January, relations with France were rekindled after a foundation run by Kadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, agreed to pay USD 170 million (EUR 130 million) in compensation to the families of victims of the 1989 attack on the French UTA flight over North Africa, in which 170 people died.

Chirac said progress made so far "is promising. We must now consolidate it and move forward".

Kadhafi said that since Libya had given up on weapons of mass destruction "it wants technology transfers to allow it to develop its civilian industry by peaceful means," Bonnafont said.

Chirac for his part said "France was open to technology transfers to those who respect the standards of international law," according to Bonnafont.

But talks on France's role in Africa may be tense, after Kadhafi said in remarks published Wednesday that he had "never understood the reasons for France's military presence in Africa", calling Paris' recent intervention in Ivory Coast a mistake.

The comments came in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper in which Kadhafi said France and Libya should work together to bring progress to Africa.

For his part, Chirac said France hoped to embark on a "deep and trusting political dialogue" with Tripoli and that France would support the "reform movement and the opening up of businesses" in Libya to the outside world.

Chirac will spend Wednesday night in Tripoli before flying to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso for the biennial summit of French-speaking nations.

French businesses are keen to get access to contracts in the Libyan oil industry, as well as in aviation, banking, electricity, sanitation and tourism.

On Monday, the two countries ironed out one of the last hurdles to increased investment, with an agreement for the payment of more than EUR 40 million in arrears owed by Libyan companies to France's export credit guarantee agency Coface.

French Foreign Trade Minister Francois Loos, who is among those accompanying Chirac, has also signed a double-taxation protocol with his Libyan counterpart, Mohammed Ali al-Huwej, in Paris.

France is Libya's fifth-largest supplier, with exports of EUR 272 million last year, most linked to major public works contracts. French imports from Libya were worth EUR 756 million in 2003 and consisted almost entirely of oil.

Earlier this year Kadhafi met British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, all likewise bent on encouraging Libya's rehabilitation and pitching for economic favours.


Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article