Chirac's Libya visit set to open business doors

23rd November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 24 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac heads to Libya on Wednesday in the first visit by a French head of state in half a century, confirming maverick leader Moamer Kadhafi's gradual return to international respectability.

PARIS, Nov 24 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac heads to Libya on Wednesday in the first visit by a French head of state in half a century, confirming maverick leader Moamer Kadhafi's gradual return to international respectability.

For France the trip is also the chance to stake a claim for lucrative business contracts which should follow Kadhafi's promise to liberalise the oil-rich country's heavily-controlled economy.

French flags were draped in the streets of Tripoli to welcome Chirac, who is accompanied by three ministers and a delegation of business leaders.

Talks with Kadhafi will focus on Iraq, Africa, terrorism and economic cooperation, Chirac's spokesman Jerome Bonnafont said. The fate of five Bulgarians sentenced to death for causing an outbreak of AIDS will also be raised.

Chirac's visit follows meetings this year between Kadhafi and other European leaders including Britain's Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, all bent on encouraging Libya's rehabilitation and also pitching for economic favours.

Also in Tripoli on Wednesday is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on a tour of several oil producing nations including Russia, Iran and Qatar.

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

The United States and the European Union have since dropped most sanctions slapped on Libya after the attacks. Last month Brussels removed an arms embargo.

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 UTA attack over North Africa, in which 170 people died.

Since then the French Foreign Trade Minister Francois Loos and Foreign Minister Michel Barnier have both visited Tripoli, while Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem has been in Paris. Loos, Barnier and Transport Minister Gilles de Robien are to accompany Chirac.

In an interview this week Ghanem told AFP that Chirac's visit would "seal the normalisation of relations between the two countries now that the outstanding problems have been sorted out. Paris and Tripoli both want to deepen their ties and develop them across the board."

"It is the end of a process of progressive normalisation between Libya and the international community," Bonnafont said.

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.

Loos and his Libyan counterpart Mohamed Ali Al-Huwej also signed a protocol in Paris to permit companies operating abroad in either country to pay only one set of taxes.

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

© AFP

Subject: French News

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