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Italy Downplays Gadhafi Remarks


Italy's foreign minister sought to minimize a warning by Libyan Colonel Moammar Gadhafi about possible reprisals against his country's former colonial ruler, if no compensation is forthcoming. But some Italian politicians reacted coldly to the comments made by the Libyan leader.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini played down warnings by the Libyan leader that Italian interests in his country risked new attacks, unless Rome pays compensation for its behavior during 30 years of colonial occupation.

Fini said the Libyan leader's words were made for domestic political purposes, and should be viewed in that context. He was referring to comments made by Mr. Gadhafi to the Libyan People's General Congress Thursday night in Sirte.

The Libyan leader spoke of the events in Benghazi two weeks ago, when rioters broke into the grounds of the Italian consulate, setting fire to vehicles and part of the building. Police struggled to contain the riot, which killed 11 and injured dozens more.

Mr. Gadhafi said the regrettable events were the result of accumulated wrongs since 1911 of repression and injustice suffered by the Libyan people under Italian occupation. He called on Italy to compensate the Libyan people for the deaths and refugees, to avoid a social explosion against its interests, companies and nationals.

Mr. Gadhafi also said the Benghazi riots had not been sparked by the anti-Islamic cartoons printed in Denmark. He said Libyans do not hate Denmark, but Italy, adding that the Italian consul and his family would have been killed, if the police had not used live ammunition to quell the protests. The police were accused of using excessive force.

Some Italian politicians reacted coldly to Mr. Gadhafi's threat. The leader of Italy's main opposition party, Piero Fassino, said Mr. Gadhafi's words certainly do not favor relations between the two countries. Other opposition members said the government should have done more to solve the colonial dispute with Libya.

Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of wartime dictator Benito Mussolini, who declared Libya a part of Italy in 1938, defended the colonial rule, saying that, without her grandfather, "Libyans would still be riding camels." She called on the international community to intervene in the face of Mr. Gadhafi's threats.

But members of the government majority took a softer stance.

The speaker of the lower house, Pierferdinando Casini, said, "We want and express friendship toward the Libyan people, and have supported Libya opening up to the West."

Italy does not want the recent violence to affect years of diplomacy to improve relations with Libya. Italy is Libya's top trading partner, and more than 50 Italian companies operate in the country. Libya also supplies around 30 percent of Italy's energy needs.