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Libya's Gadhafi Visits Brussels - 2004-04-27

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is in Brussels, seeking to improve relations with the European Union. It is his first trip outside of Africa and the Middle East in 15 years. Wherever Colonel Gadhafi goes, political theater accompanies him. Some 200 noisy pro-Gadhafi demonstrators danced in the streets and banged African drums, as the Libyan leader arrived at EU headquarters. Across the street, about 50 Libyan exiles mounted a counter-demonstration to protest human-rights violations in Libya.

The colonel has also set up his trademark Bedouin tent on the grounds of the Belgian government estate where he is staying, and he has brought his fatigue-clad female bodyguards with him.

But this visit is about more than political theater. It is seen by analysts as a reward for Colonel Gadhafi's renunciation of weapons of mass destruction and his agreements to pay compensation for the bombing of two airliners in the 1980s.

Analyst Philip McCrum, of the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, says both the West and Libya have something to gain from improved relations.

"There is obviously realpolitik involved here, and the West clearly needs some allies in the Middle East ... Libya has been in economic isolation for the past 20 years, and it has dilapidated infrastructure," he said. "All that needs to be upgraded and developed to modern standards. The West, and Europe in particular, can provide the expertise and the money for that."

EU officials say Libya has expressed interest in joining an EU trade and aid plan for Mediterranean rim countries. Libya desperately needs to import replacement parts for its oil industry and civil aviation sector. Italy is pressing the European Union to lift an arms embargo against the North African state, and also wants Libyan cooperation in fighting illegal immigration.

But there are still conditions before Libya can benefit from EU aid and trade. Germany wants compensation for the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub that was allegedly ordered by Colonel Gadhafi. And the European Union is pressing Libya to release six Bulgarian medics detained in Tripoli for the past five years on charges that they deliberately infected children with the AIDS virus.

On the eve of Colonel Gadhafi's arrival in Brussels, Amnesty International accused Libya of continuing human-rights violations and of fostering, what it called, a climate of fear that prevents Libyans from speaking freely. The human-rights issue is being raised with the Libyan leader, but EU officials say it is not the main issue on the agenda.