Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 16:42 UK

Italy PM in Libya to meet Gaddafi

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Silvio Berlusconi, pictured 20 June 2008
Mr Berlusconi says he wants Libyan migrant holding centres set up

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has arrived in Libya for talks with Col Muammar Gaddafi.

The two leaders will discuss how to stop illegal immigrants using Libya as a launching point for Italian shores.

Mr Berlusconi said he would ask for the creation of Libyan holding centres for illegal immigrants and increased vigilance of Libya's coast.

On Wednesday, a boat thought to be from Libya reached the Sicilian island of Lampedusa with 275 illegal migrants.

Every year thousands of immigrants from the African continent head towards Libya, from where they attempt to sail across the Mediterranean for Europe.

Stranded migrants

There are possibly around a million people at the moment trying to make that journey.

Most have travelled from sub-Saharan states such as Ghana and Sierra Leone, attracted by Libya's reputation as a centre for people smugglers.

A wooden boat carries some 35 would-be immigrants from Lampedusa on 26 June 2008
Italy has pressed Libya for years to step up patrol of its shores

Mr Berlusconi is meeting Mr Gaddafi in the northern province of Surt, to discuss one solution, an accord signed in December.

The agreement would allow Italian naval vessels to patrol the Libyan coast with Libyan sailors aboard - but it is yet to be implemented.

This is perhaps because Libyan authorities are worried that if these efforts prove too successful, they will end up with thousands of stranded migrants.

The compromise could be a renewed focus on Libya's southern borders, where the migrants cross the Sahara desert without too many problems.

Italy is offering to fund a radar or satellite system which would help the Libyan authorities respond.

There are other issues up for discussion - notably oil.

Italy, the former colonial power, is Libya's biggest trading partner and 25% of oil imports come from their north African neighbour.

The Italian prime minister might express his concerns at the rising price of crude oil.

It jumped again on Friday in response to threats from Libya's most senior oil official that his country might cut production if it continues to be pressured by the US.

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