Kadhafi snubbed by opposition MPs at French parliament

12th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

French opposition lawmakers Tuesday boycotted a meeting with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi on day two

PARIS, December 12, 2007 - French opposition lawmakers Tuesday boycotted a meeting with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi on day two of a visit marked by harsh criticism of his rights record and multi-billion dollar trade deals.

Kadhafi was received in the National Assembly buildings by parliamentary speaker Bernard Accoyer, but Socialist deputies and some members of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement refused to attend in protest over Libya's human rights record.

Stormy scenes broke out afterwards in the assembly as opposition lawmakers walked out of a debate on Europe in protest.

"You do not roll out the red carpet for a dictator in the house of democracy," fumed the Socialists' leader in parliament Jean-Marc Ayrault. President Nicolas Sarkozy's invitation to Kadhafi, who last visited France more than 30 years ago, has come under sustained attack from rights groups and the political left who accuse the president of betraying France's commitment to defend human rights.

Sarkozy argues that since Kadhafi had abandoned sponsorship of terrorism and development of illegal weapons it is important to encourage him further down the path of international respectability.

But Socialist heavyweights including former presidential candidate Segolene Royal and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe joined rights campaigners at a protest rally at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

"This visit violates the rule of morality," charged Royal. "France must remain standing and not let its moral values be undermined."

Sarkozy told reporters he had asked Kadhafi for "progress on the path of human rights" during their talks on Monday -- but this was denied by the Libyan leader in an interview with French public television.

"First of all, President Sarkozy and I, we did not discuss these questions," Kadhafi told France 2, according to a voiced French translation of his comments broadcast late Tuesday.

Kadhafi told the channel that "human rights are not an issue in my country," which he said was governed by "direct popular democracy." The veteran leader also denied condoning terrorism in comments made at the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon at the weekend: "I never said that poor countries should resort to terrorism. I think my words were greatly deformed."

On Monday, Kadhafi was welcomed by Sarkozy at the Elysee presidential palace, where he initialed trade deals worth more than 10 billion euros (14.7 billion dollars), including contracts for Airbus airliners, a nuclear-powered water desalination plant and construction projects.

In an important breakthrough for French arms manufacturers, Libya undertook to negotiate exclusively with France on a range of planned military purchases, including Rafale jets, helicopters, armoured vehicles and patrol-boats.

The news was a major boost for Rafale's manufacturer Dassault Aviation, which has up to now been unable to sell any of the jets abroad.

Kadhafi last visited France in 1973. This is his most high-profile foreign trip since he began to rebuild bridges with the United States and Europe four years ago.

The government's own human rights minister Rama Yade denounced the use of torture and arbitrary arrest in Libya, saying France should not be a "doormat on which a leader -- terrorist or otherwise -- can wipe off the blood of his crimes."

But Sarkozy got backing from former Socialist foreign minister Roland Dumas. "Colonel Kadhafi has moved in the right direction. He is behaving in a way that brings him closer to the West.... He has understood that the world has changed," Dumas said.

The visit follows the release from Libyan prison in July of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death for allegedly infecting children with HIV/AIDS. Sarkozy's then wife Cecilia played a role in negotiations to free the medics.

A National Assembly committee, looking into the circumstances of the release amid opposition charges that Sarkozy offered trade inducements to win Kadhafi's assent, is to wrap up its work on Thursday.

Later in the week the Libyan leader is to meet a delegation of women from the high-immigration suburbs of Paris and take a trip to the chateau of Versailles. He leaves France on Saturday.


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