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Gaddafi's Vatican weirdness

  • 17 June 2009
The weirdness of Colonel Mu'ammar Gaddafi's first-ever visit to Italy was evident from the moment he descended from his jet plane at Rome airport last Wednesday. Not only did the de facto leader of Libya look like Michael Jackson in an ill-fitting, gold braided military uniform, but pinned to his chest he had a representation of Omar al Mukhtar, the Libyan resistance leader who was hanged by Italian colonial forces in 1931.

His visit was to celebrate the end of recriminations over the colonial era, but Gaddafi was underlining past misdeeds. He also lectured his hosts about democracy ('dispense with elections') and compared the American bombs on his tents in 1986 to the Osama Bin Laden attack on New York.

The trip was a consequence of the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi apologising for Italy's colonial misdeeds (Italy had Libya as colony from 1911–31) and giving $US 5 million compensation. Libya has promised to help Italy stem the flow of illegal African migrants.

The visit had a substantial business aspect: Italy imports a quarter of its petrol from Libya which is also a good market for Italian goods. Libya invests in Italian firms such as Fiat and is expected to boost its investments as a result of the visit.

During the visit, critics of Libya's denial of human rights contrasted with Rome soccer club supporters keen for Gaddafi investment. A few years ago his son was registered as a Perugia A-grade club player and was allowed on the field for five minutes at the end of an unimportant match.

Those annoyed that Gaddafi was given a free hand to criticise all and sundry, without anyone tackling him on the Libyan-sponsored Lockerbie plane bomb or the Libyan missile fired ineffectively against Italy, were pleased when Gianfranco Fini, the Chamber of Deputies President, cancelled the colonel's visit to the Chamber after he had kept everyone waiting for two hours.

The Libyan explanation was that Gaddafi was praying in the tent he had erected in the Doria Pamphili park, although his 400 camp followers, including female bodyguards, were in Roman hotels.

One Gaddafian pearl was that Islamic forms of government should not be criticised since the Vatican is a theocratic State. This took me back to the first Libyan-Vatican meeting in Tripoli in 1976, where a discussion was held between Vatican Islamic experts and theologians and their Libyan counterparts.