Gaddafi Visit Causes Stir in France

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

PARIS, Dec. 10 -- Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, continuing his global outreach and image makeover, arrived in France on Monday for his first visit in 34 years, bringing a torrent of criticism down on him and his host, President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was accused of feting a brutal dictator on Human Rights Day.

Leading the criticism was Sarkozy's secretary of state for human rights, Rama Yade, a woman of Senegalese origins who accused Sarkozy's government of seeming to care more about trade with oil-rich Libya than about principles of human rights.

"Colonel Gaddafi must understand that our country is not a doormat on which a leader, terrorist or not, can come and wipe the blood of his crimes off his feet," she said in an interview in Monday's daily Le Parisien. "France should not receive that kiss of death."

Sarkozy extended his invitation to Gaddafi in the summer, after the French president helped mediate the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been imprisoned in Libya for eight years, accused of infecting children with HIV. For many countries, the release of the medical workers removed the last major barrier to Libya's reintroduction to the community of nations.

Libya was long considered a pariah state for sponsoring international terrorism, but it has been traveling a road of rehabilitation since 2003, when Gaddafi's government took responsibility for downing Pan Am Flight 103 and Flight 772 of the French airline UTA in the late 1980s and agreed to pay compensation to the victims' families. His country also renounced terrorism and gave up programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Gaddafi was greeted at the airport Monday by Interior Minister Mich¿le Alliot-Marie, then whisked in a white Mercedes limousine to Sarkozy's office in the Elysee Palace. After their meeting, Sarkozy told reporters that during the five-day visit, he and Gaddafi would sign about $15 billion in contracts. The deals reportedly include collaboration on a nuclear power station, about $4.4 billion in Airbus planes and the purchase of military hardware, including Dassault Rafale fighter jets.

During a European Union-Africa summit this past weekend in Lisbon, Sarkozy brushed off criticism of the Gaddafi visit, saying it could encourage good behavior by other adversarial nations. Political analysts said the visit could send a positive message to countries such as North Korea, Iran and Syria that there are concrete benefits to good behavior.

During the Lisbon summit, Gaddafi helped fuel the controversy that greeted his arrival in Paris by reportedly saying it was "normal for the weak to resort to terrorism" and arguing that Europe's colonial powers should provide restitution to African nations.

Sarkozy's Socialist opponent in this year's presidential election, S¿gol¿ne Royal, described Gaddafi's visit as "simply despicable, very shocking," and said, "Do we have to be on our knees for financial interests?"

Centrist presidential candidate Fran¿ois Bayrou told RMC radio that he had "the impression that from now on, French foreign policy is entirely dictated by business."

Sarkozy hosted a dinner for Gaddafi on Monday night.

Researcher Corinne Gavard contributed to this report.

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