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Libya-Switzerland Diplomatic Row Heats Up

Libya is ratcheting up its diplomatic quarrel with Switzerland over the arrest last July of one of the sons of Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi. Libya is suing the Geneva authorities for more than $400,000 for false arrest.

This is just the latest in a long list of retaliatory measures being taken by Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi against Switzerland. The colonel has neither forgotten nor forgiven the government of this small Alpine state for having arrested his son, Hannibal and his pregnant wife Aline in Geneva last summer.

In the latest twist in this ongoing saga, Hannibal, his wife and the Libyan state have filed a civil lawsuit against the authorities. They allege the police used disproportionate force when they arrested Hannibal and his wife on charges of mistreating two domestic servants.

A lawyer representing the Gadhafis and Libya, Charles Poncet, calls it a straightforward lawsuit for damages.

"There is nothing exotic or extraordinary about this suit," he noted. "There are tens of such lawsuits in Switzerland every year. So, it is nothing particular. We are seeking findings from the court that the police intervention was not appropriate and consequently was in violation of Swiss and Geneva rules and we are seeking damages."

Contrary to the lawyer's view, the Swiss government does not see this as an ordinary, run of the mill case. The arrest of Hannibal and his wife sparked a diplomatic crisis, which shows no signs of going away.

After two nights in detention, the Libyan couple were released on a bail of more than $400,000 and left the country. Charges against them were dropped in September after the servants received an undisclosed amount in compensation and withdrew their complaint.

Since July, relations between Libya and Switzerland have seriously deteriorated. Actions Libya has taken against the Swiss include the forced closure of Swiss businesses, cutting the number of Swiss flights to Tripoli and threats to stop crude oil deliveries to Switzerland.

Two Swiss nationals were arrested. Although they were later released, they are not allowed to leave the country.

Poncet says his clients are very upset by the humiliating manner in which they have been treated by the Swiss authorities.

"They feel that the Swiss treated them high-handedly, pretending to go through the exercise of a joint independent committee," he said. "But, in fact denying any authority to that Committee. And, then trying to circumvent the negotiating process by a sort of secret round-about meeting in Davos, which frankly upset the Libyan government very much."

In January, the Swiss Foreign Minister met with another of Gadhafi's sons, Seif al-Islam, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland hoping to resolve the row. The attempt failed.

The Swiss government has ruled out an apology over the affair. It says the Geneva authorities acted within the law. It adds it expects the standoff with Libya to go on for some time still.