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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
UK firms jostle for Libya deals
Tony Blair meets Colonel Gaddafi
Libya has been welcomed back into the fold
Dozens of British companies are in Libya hoping to clinch lucrative contracts with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's newly rehabilitated regime.

UK firms account for one-third of about 240 European companies attending a two-day conference in Tripoli on investment opportunities in Libya.

They hope to wrap up new deals before Washington lifts sanctions on Libya, opening the door to bids from US firms.

The US could restore commercial relations with Libya within days.

The BBC's Rory Cellan Jones, reporting from Tripoli, says diplomatic sources believe the Americans are likely to lift most of their sanctions later this week.

In from the cold

The repeal of US sanctions would bring Libya's re-entry into the commercial and diplomatic mainstream close to completion, ending years of isolation triggered by Libya's involvement in terrorism during the 1980s.

Terrorist incidents attributed to Libya include the Lockerbie bombing, the supply of arms to the IRA, and the murder in London of police officer Yvonne Fletcher.

Libya's rehabilitation began late last year when Colonel Gaddafi announced that Libya had abandoned its ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Last month, Tripoli declared stockpiles of chemical weapons to the United Nations, and has since destroyed some of them under UN supervision.

Handshake

Western leaders have responded positively, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair paying a high-profile visit to Colonel Gaddafi last month.

Libya's relations with France, strained by the alleged involvement of Libyan agents in the bombing of a French airliner in 1989, were restored after Tripoli agreed to pay $170m in compensation.

Libyan Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem visited Paris on Monday to sign a set of cooperation agreements between the two countries.

The main business opportunities for Western firms seeking to invest in Libya are thought to lie in oil and gas, as well as construction and tourism.

British companies attending the conference in Tripoli include engineering contractor Balfour Beatty, construction firm Amec and defence giant BAE Systems.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"British defence firms are being encouraged to be ready to do business in Libya"




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