Sunday, June 7, 2009

Libya's Gadhafi to visit Rome

ROME (AP) 2009/06/05

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi will make his first visit to Rome next week, nearly four decades after he expelled 20,000 Italians to punish Italy for its occupation of the North African country.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said Friday that Gadhafi's three-day visit, starting Wednesday, will include meetings with Premier Silvio Berlusconi and other officials, as well as university students, businessmen and a delegation of prominent Italian women.

Gadhafi and Berlusconi are expected to sign bilateral agreements, officials said.

Relations between Italy and Libya have warmed over the last few years, with Italian leaders meeting Gadhafi several times. But it has taken years of negotiations for the two sides to reach a deal on compensation for Italy's rule over Libya from 1911 to 1943. All Italians living in Libya were expelled in 1970, the year after Gadhafi seized power.

Last year, Berlusconi traveled to Benghazi, Libya, to sign a memorandum pledging a $5 billion compensation package involving construction projects, student grants and pensions for Libyan soldiers who served with the Italians during World War II.

In return, Italy wants Libya to crack down on the thousands of illegal migrants smuggled across the Mediterranean to Italy. The two countries have a controversial new immigration accord under which Italy repatriates migrants who set off from Libya.

Gadhafi will return to Italy in July for the G-8 summit in the quake-hit city of L'Aquila, where he is expected to discuss Africa's problems.