Page last updated at 19:25 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 20:25 UK

Gaddafi no-show angers Italians

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday
Observers say Col Gaddafi has been chronically late

The Italian lower house has cancelled a high-level conference with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after he failed to turn up after a two-hour wait.

Calling the delay "unjustified", Speaker Gianfranco Fini called the meeting off to applause from the crowd.

Col Gaddafi has prompted a number of controversies on his first visit to Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler.

An earlier address to a group of 700 Italian women - for which he was also late - drew both applause and jeers.

He and his 200-member entourage arrived to a red-carpet welcome on Wednesday hosted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But at a debate in Rome University on Thursday, the colonel was heckled by students who were protesting against his human-rights record and a deal with Italy to forcibly return African migrants.

Long wait

The streets of Rome around the lower house of parliament were reportedly shut down in a security operation by police, and senior politicians had gathered in anticipation of Col Gaddafi's visit.

Students protest against the visit of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the La Sapienza University on  Thursday
Col Gaddafi's visit sparked protests

He had been due to begin meetings at 1430 local time (1230 GMT), but by 1630 had failed to arrive.

The conference was then called off "due to the delay" by Gaddafi, said Mr Fini to applause from the waiting crowd.

"A delay that has not been justified to the lower house speaker and for which... I consider this conference cancelled," he said.

Observers say Col Gaddafi has made a habit of failing to appear on time for his appointments while on his Italian visit.

They say he was half an hour behind schedule for his meeting with the Italian head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano; an hour late for Mr Berlusconi; an hour late for the Senate; and an hour-and-a-half late for La Sapienza University.

'Forced by necessity'

Col Gaddafi was also an hour late for his audience with prominent Italian women from the fields of business, politics and culture earlier on Friday.

Nonetheless, he entered the gathering at Rome's concert hall to loud applause, and was introduced by Italy's Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna, a former beauty queen.

Col Gaddafi spoke about the condition of women in Europe and Africa with some of his trademark female bodyguards standing by.

"In society I think there is complete equality between men and women," he told the audience, which included some women who were carrying posters of him.

"The European woman has arrived where she is today, driving trains and buses, travels on her own, sleeps in hotels, and so formally she is emancipated.

"But this wasn't because of her free choice or development but because she was forced by necessity," he added.

Although the comment drew boos from many of the women present, other remarks were met by applause and laughter.


Italian businesswomen boo Gaddafi

There was a throng of women around the Libyan leader as he left, with several trying to get his autograph or take his picture.

"I hope that Gaddafi can take inspiration from women in Italy and the West to reflect and improve the condition of women in his own country," business woman Soraya Bonincontro told Reuters news agency.

Col Gaddafi held a similar meeting on a visit to Paris in 2007, when he told guests he wanted to "save European women".

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