Kadhafi's visit to France sparks fresh criticism
Stephane Orjollet reports as Moamer Kadhafi stirred fresh discord on Saturday after declarations appearing to support terrorism
PARIS, December 8, 2007 - Two days before his visit to Paris, Libyan
leader Moamer Kadhafi stirred fresh discord Saturday after declarations
appearing to support terrorism, even as his son plugged for new business deals with France.
On Friday, the famously mercurial Kadhafi, whose country spent years in
diplomatic isolation for its alleged support of terrorists, said he considered
it "normal that the weak had recourse to terrorism."
The same day in Lisbon, he also called on former colonial powers to
"compensate the people they colonised and whose riches they plundered."
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not refer to such incidents
Saturday, as he shook the Libyan leader's hand at a summit of European and
African leaders in Portugal.
"I am very pleased to receive you in Paris," Sarkozy said.
Kadhafi's son Seif el-Islam has predicted Libya will purchase Airbus
planes, a nuclear reactor and possibly Rafale fighter jets during the leader's
five-day visit here.
In an interview with France's Le Figaro daily Seif also described bilateral
differences as past history. "For us, (the visit) should crown the new
relations between France and Libya," he told the newspaper.
But the past is very much present for French critics, who denounced Sarkozy for inviting the Libyan leader, who plans to pitch a heated Bedouin tent next to the Elysee palace during his stay.
"No signature of commercial contracts can legitimize such a blindness on
the part of Nicolas Sarkozy," said Francois Hollande, head of the leading
opposition Socialist Party.
"This visit is unworthy of France and unworthy for France," said centrist
politician Francois Bayrou.
Leftist French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was even blunter. "One cannot invite a terrorist and taker of international hostages," he said, adding he was "shocked" by the Libyan leader's stay here.
Kadhafi's trip was triggered by the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a
Palestinian doctor accused in Libya of infecting children with HIV/AIDS.
Sarkozy's former wife Cecilia played a role in brokering the release and the
president visited Tripoli in July.
The two countries then signed commercial and military accords, including
arms sales and an agreement to build a nuclear reactor for water desalination.
But the circumstances of the Bulgarians' release have sowed political
controversy in France, where the government denies opposition charges it
bought the nurses' freedom by offering inducements.
They were fodder for fresh criticism Saturday from Socialist
ex-presidential candidate Segolene Royal.
"We don't know in what conditions the nurses were tortured. It was not done without Kadhafi's knowledge," she said.
Franco-Libyan relations have steadily improved since a 2004 accord on a
Libyan compensation deal for the victims of a French DC-10 airliner bombing
over Niger. The 1989 crash killed 170 people, including 54 French.
The upturn paved the way for a visit by President Jacques Chirac in
November 2004. The two countries resumed defence cooperation in February 2005.
But Sarkozy has promised to craft a new diplomacy taking human rights into account and to break from France's traditional policy toward Africa --
promises his critics claim ring hollow.
Besides warming ties with Libya, they point to the president's continued
support of certain authoritarian African regimes and Sarkozy's congratulatory
call to Russian President Vladimir Putin after his party's victory in
legislative elections on December 2 -- even as other countries expressed
concern about the vote.
But Axel Poniatowski, a member of Sarkozy's governing Union for a Popular Movement party, defended a policy of "realpolitik" toward Libya saying it "was better to stop marginalising" the country.