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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 12:34 GMT
Italian premier meets Gaddafi
D'Alema Mr D'Alema: Keen to rebuild links with Libya

By Africa correspondent Caroline Hawley in Tripoli

Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema has met Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi during the first visit by a Western head of government since sanctions isolated the nation in 1992.

The two men met in a tent-shaped concrete room in Mr Gaddafi's heavily fortified compound in the capital, Tripoli.

Italy is a bridge between Libya and Europe ... and at the same time we look at Libya as a connection between Europe and Africa and the Arab world
Massimo D'Alema
The sanctions were imposed to force Tripoli to hand over two Libyan nationals suspected of involvement in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in Scotland. The embargo was lifted in April.

Mr D'Alema, who arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday, returned to the Libyan Government a second century statue of Venus taken from Libya during Italy's fascist period.

"By getting the statue back from Berlin, restoring it, and then giving it back to Libya, Italy has attempted to heal a wound," Mr D'Alema said at a ceremony, which Libyan Prime Minister Mohamed Ahmed al-Mangoush also attended.

"This is a sign of the communication between our two great Mediterranean civilisations," Mr D'Alema added.

The statue was taken from the ancient spa town of Leptis Magna in 1940 by Italy's governor of Libya Italo Balbo, and then given as a gift to Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

Changing times

Mr D'Alema's visit to Libya is a symbol of changing times.

Now that sanctions have been suspended, Libya is slowly opening up a new page in its relations with Europe - Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, is leading the way in bringing it out of the diplomatic cold.

Colonel Gadhafi The visit is a big boost for Colonel Gaddafi
Italy has major commercial interests in Libya, most of its oil is imported from Libya and most Libyan imports come from Italy.

Both sides are keen to expand economic cooperation and there are now plans to build an underwater pipeline that would link the two countries.

For Libya the visit is also of great psychological importance. It is a big personal boost to Colonel Gaddafi and his new policy of co-operation with the west.

And it has been widely welcomed on the streets of Tripoli where there's relief that several years of international isolation are now drawing to a close. "It makes us very happy," one man told me, "we want peace with the world."

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See also:
07 Jul 99 |  UK Politics
UK restores Libya links
05 Apr 99 |  World
Trial follows years of bargaining
05 Apr 99 |  World
Analysis: Legal firsts for Lockerbie trial
10 Jul 98 |  World
Italy-Libya statement
10 Jul 98 |  Middle East
Libya says Italy is sorry

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