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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 19:10 GMT
Gaddafi: Africa must unite
Colonel Gaddafi and Nelson Mandela
Colonel Gaddafi is getting close to many African leaders
By Caroline Hawley in Sirte

Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi has said there was no excuse for Africa not to unite.

He was addressing the opening session of a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity in his home town of Sirte.

African leaders have gathered in the Libya for a summit on proposals to set up an African union similar to the European Union.

The leaders will go on to discuss the formation of a pan-African parliament, one of the key planks of the proposed African Union, as well as one of the most crucial issues facing the whole continent - its crushing debt.

A spokesman for the Organisation of African Unity said that in the face of globalisation, Africa must truly unite. There was, he said, "no choice".

The summit is taking place in an opulent green marbled complex, specially built for a similar gathering in 1999, at which the Libyan leader first proposed a United States of Africa.

'Visionary'

Pictures of Colonel Gaddafi line the walls, one shows him holding a map of the entire continent in his hands.

Poster in Sirte
Libyan poster reads: 'The African people aspire to having only one African state'
Colonel Gaddafi has now found himself a platform in Africa, having turned his back on the Arab world after it failed to break the air embargo imposed on Libya over the Lockerbie bombing.

The leaders of Libya's Arab neighbours, Egypt and Tunisia are notable absentees from the summit, but most of the continent's other key players are here.

The African Union project still has its sceptics but it does now appear to be moving ahead.

Plans

At preparatory meetings before the summit there were detailed discussions on the composition and powers of a planned African parliament.

A total of 44 countries belonging to the Organisation of African Unity have now signed up to the unity plan, but it needs to be ratified by two-thirds of OAU members before it goes into effect.

Colonel Gaddafi will have hoped that would have happened before this summit.

There is no hint of disappointment, though, in the banners adorning Sirte and the capital, Tripoli.

One proclaims African unity a concrete fact achieved by African heroes, while another describes Africa as a land of unlimited prosperity.

But not all Libyans are behind Colonel Gaddafi's ambitious plan, which they think is soaking up resources they would rather see spent on social services at home.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | Africa
United States of Africa?
31 Oct 00 | Africa
United States of Southern Africa?
10 Jul 00 | Middle East
Gaddafi steals Lome limelight
09 Jul 00 | Middle East
Gaddafi's warm reception
12 Jul 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
On the trail of Colonel Gaddafi
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