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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK
Gaddafi steals the show
shroeder
Gerhard Schroeder (left) met Colonel Gaddafi after the speech
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

Libya's flamboyant and unpredictable leader stole the show, once again.

From debt to democratisation, Aids to xenophobia, the pressing issues on the table of the unprecedented Africa-Europe summit were at times overshadowed by Colonel Gaddafi's presence at his first such gathering for several years.

From his early arrival in Egypt on Friday, the Libyan leader's conduct was vintage, individualist stuff.

Although the air embargo against Tripoli is no longer in force, Colonel Gaddafi chose to drive through the desert from Libya rather than fly into Cairo.

Tent

While most of his African counterparts stayed in Cairo's smartest hotels, Colonel Gaddafi had a massive tent in the grounds of a presidential guest house, the Al-Salam palace, where he hosted a big banquet on Sunday night.

Chirac
Colonel Gaddafi lashed out at President Chirac
The Libyan leader also turned up late to the conference's opening ceremony, striding into the hall only after the Egyptian host, President Mubarak, had begun speaking.

Colonel Gaddafi's attendance at the Cairo summit has been seen as another major step back into the international fold, following the suspension of UN sanctions last year.

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, was one of the first to meet him on Monday.

The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, also took what he believed was a "bold step," to probe "new ideas" from the Libyan leader.

Fiery speech

But diplomats were taken aback by Colonel Gaddafi's official speech to a closed session of the conference, late on Monday evening.

In a fiery address, he lashed out at both Europe and the United States.

He singled out the French President, Jacques Chirac, and the Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, for criticism, saying he found it hard to believe that, with their countries' colonial past, they could be genuinely concerned about Africa today.


"These (Colonel Gaddafi's speech) are not words that will help dialogue between Europe and Libya"

EC President Romano Prodi
He accused Europeans of having long regarded Africans as "apes", and criticised capitalists for using foodstuffs like eggs and honey as hair products.

He also dismissed European calls for political reform in Africa, saying: "We do not need democracy, we need water pumps."

In a statement released afterwards, Mr Prodi said he was "strongly disappointed" by the speech.

"These are not words that will help dialogue between Europe and Libya," he said.

But individual countries are keen to take advantage of new business opportunities in oil-rich Libya following the suspension of sanctions, and they made clear that they would push ahead with their own dialogues, undeterred.

Both the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, met Colonel Gaddafi on Tuesday.

And a British official travelling with the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said Britain and Libya were "making progress" towards improving relations and that they would "continue on that track."

Speaking at the end of the summit, Libya's minister for African Unity, Ali Triki, said: "Our relations with the Europeans are very good."

"We talk to them in the hall frankly, and they appreciate that because we have to tell them the truth and all the African heads of state supported that," he added.

"Our European partners should understand that we have traditions that are different from them.

"We need to co-operate, we need to share with them our common interest, but still we are different from them. We are Africans and they are European."

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Africa
Gaddafi attacks Europe
04 Apr 00 | Middle East
Tight security at Africa-Europe summit
15 Mar 00 | Africa
Debt relief for Mozambique
18 Jan 00 | Africa
Seeking growth in Africa
02 Jan 00 | Africa
Call to stop African arms trade
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