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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Libyan leader embraces West
Colonel Gaddafi and Romano Prodi
EU commissioner Prodi greets the colonel and his bodyguards
Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has used a landmark official visit to Europe to urge peace and disarmament.

Colonel Gaddafi said by renouncing weapons of mass destruction, Libya had secured more benefits for itself than it could by possessing such weapons.

Speaking in Brussels, he urged other countries to follow his example.

After talks with Colonel Gaddafi, EU leaders praised Libya for the progress it had made recently in relations with the international community.

I would like to declare that Libya is determined and committed to play a leading role in achieving world peace
Colonel Gaddafi

But in a report timed to coincide with the visit, the human rights group Amnesty International accused Libya of continuing to jail, torture and execute political prisoners.

The official visit - his first to Europe for 15 years - is the latest stage in Libya's return to the international community after years of exclusion.

Europe's warm welcome for the colonel and his large entourage is a mark of his new status, correspondents say.

'Bold moves'

In a break with convention, EU commission head Romano Prodi personally met Colonel Gaddafi after he walked off the plane in trademark fez and flowing brown robes.

Gaddafi supporters

The Libyan leader's crack team of female bodyguards in striking blue uniforms accompanied his convoy into Brussels, as he made his way to talks and a lunch date with EU dignitaries.

Cheered on by up to 200 chanting supporters and African drummers, he gave a clenched-fist salute as he entered the European Commission headquarters.

A smaller group of Libyan exiles and human rights activists protested a few hundred metres away, chanting "Gaddafi terrorist" and holding a banner saying "Gaddafi is a wolf in sheep's clothing".

In a wordy 45-minute speech which included bursts of his familiar firebrand style, Colonel Gaddafi said he was ready to work for peace after years of advocating armed struggle.

"I would like to seize the opportunity today and declare before you... that Libya is determined and committed to play a leading role in achieving world peace," he said.

"We do hope that we shall not be obliged or forced one day to go back to those days when we bomb our cars or put explosive belts around our beds and around our women..." he added.

For the EU, Mr Prodi said he welcomed the Libyan leader's "bold moves" in renouncing weapons of mass destruction.

"We need to work together on peace, stability, migration, security, economic reform, and cultural co-operation," he said. "This is the essence of our new neighbourhood policy, within which Libya must find its place."

Reception significant

Mr Prodi added that Libya would be allowed to join the Barcelona Process, the partnership between the EU and several Mediterranean countries.

The Libyan leader is due to dine with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt this evening.

He will stay in a blue Bedouin prayer tent - similar to his own dwelling place in Tripoli - set up in front of the Val Duchesse residence for visiting heads of state.

The European Commission, which regards the visit as a victory for European diplomacy, wants to improve economic ties with Libya and enlist the country's help in the fight against illegal immigration.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy says the warm reception Colonel Gaddafi has received in Brussels is significant in itself - even if his visit does not yield other major dividends.

The visit caps a successful month for Colonel Gaddafi, who recently hosted UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in Tripoli.

It also comes after the White House announced it was easing some of its sanctions against his regime - a move prompted by Libya's decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"Treated more like a visiting pop star than a repentant pariah"



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