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Italian PM Visits Libya to Mark Friendship Treaty


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will visit Libya for a few hours on Sunday to celebrate the anniversary of a friendship pact signed last year. He is not planning to stay to attend the events marking the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to power in 1969.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will only spend a few hours in Tripoli. For the third time in three months he will meet with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. They will have dinner together to mark the one-year anniversary of a friendship and cooperation pact, which put an end to residual animosity over Italy's colonial rule.

One of the issues the two leaders are expected to discuss is how to continue to combat illegal immigration from the coast of Libya to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, usually the first port of call for thousands of desperate Africans.

In Tripoli, Mr. Berlusconi will lay the foundation stone of a new coastal highway linking Tunisia to Egypt and which Rome is paying to build in reparation for the horrors suffered by Libya when it was an Italian colony.

Italy has agreed to pay $5-billion in compensation to Libya over the next 20 years. Mr. Berlusconi will also be visiting the first few kilometers of a railway line that Italian construction firm Ansaldo is helping to build.

The Libyans are busy preparing for major festivities planned for the 40th anniversary of Colonel Gaddafi's rule. He came to power with a military coup in 1969. Despite criticism by the opposition, Italy's air-force aerobatic team will be making two appearances in Tripoli on Monday and Tuesday.

The Italian Prime Minister will not be in town for the celebrations. But the Libyan government has invited about 300 Italian former settlers and their family members back to Tripoli for the occasion, during which they will be allowed to visit family graves.

World leaders and hundreds of VIPS have been invited to attend what is expected to be two days of celebrations and a ceremony in a giant tent. But there has been much debate over how Colonel Gaddafi and Libya should be treated following Tripoli's recent warm welcome given to the Lockerbie bomber.

Britain and the United States have been most critical.

"My first thoughts have been with the victims of the Lockerbie bombing," said Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "I was both angry and I was repulsed by the reception that a convicted bomber, guilty of a huge terrorist crime received on his return to Libya."

The Duke of York has already confirmed he was withdrawing from attending the celebrations in Libya. In addition French President Nicolas Sarkoxy and President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia have also said they will not attend.


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