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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 14:08 GMT
Italian PM in talks with Gaddafi
By David Willey
BBC correspondent in Rome

Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi is expected to offer Libya an ancient Venus statue
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy has held talks in Tripoli with the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The day-long trip is the first visit by a Western leader since Libya said it was abandoning its weapons of mass destruction programme in December.

It comes amid a historic meeting in London between the British government and the Libyan foreign minister.

Mr Gaddafi was expected to ask Mr Berlusconi to use his influence to help end US sanctions against Libya.

Washington placed Libya under sanctions two decades ago.

This is Mr Berlusconi's second visit to Libya in two years.

He was expected to ask Mr Gaddafi to help curb the influx of illegal immigrants from Africa and Asia who continue trying to enter the EU through Italy, using small boats operated by people-smugglers.

Statue sweetener

Italy was once the colonial occupying power in Libya and there is a long history of contentious relations between the two countries.

The Libyans are still demanding compensation for alleged wrongs suffered during the Italian occupation in the first half of the 20th century.

Libya - one of the world's leading oil - and natural-gas producers - currently supplies 25% of Italy's oil needs.

By spending the day with the Libyan leader at his desert home, Mr Berlusconi has every interest in trying to collect some of the kudos for the improvement in relations between Libya and the West since Mr Gaddafi changed political tack after being treated for two decades as the leader of a rogue state.

One of the sweeteners Mr Berlusconi was expected to offer to Mr Gaddafi is the return of a famous classical Greek statue - the Venus of Cyrene - dug up by Italian archaeologists at a former Greek colony on the Libyan coast and now in a Rome museum.

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