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Libyan Leader Visits Italy to Mark Improved Relations

Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is on a three-day visit to the Italian capital to mark the second anniversary of a pact between the two countries that normalized relations and closed the painful chapter of Italian colonization.

Colonel Gaddafi has pitched a giant traditional Bedouin tent for his three-day visit to the Italian capital. The tent has been placed in the garden of the residence of the Libyan Ambassador to Italy, Abdulhafed Gaddur.

The Libyan leader's visit to Italy will mark the second anniversary of the signing of a $6 billion accord under which Rome agreed to pay reparations for its colonial rule of Libya between 1911 and 1943.

For the occasion, an equestrian show will be held, for which Libya has sent 30 Berber horses and riders. Traveling with Colonel Gadhafi are also 40 "Amazonian" bodyguards, a unique contingent made up of just women. A gala dinner for 800 guests is also planned for after the show.

But protests are planned in Rome, outside the Libyan embassy and elsewhere. There are many who oppose the Italian government's relationship with the Libyan leader.

The deal signed between Colonel Gadhafi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in August 2008 included an Italian commitment to build a 2,000-kilometer freeway along the Libyan coast. There is also a controversial agreement between the Libyan and Italian navies to stop African immigrants reaching Italy.

This initiative has been sharply criticized by human-rights groups, who say that after being forced back to Libya boat people are sent to squalid detention centers. But the Italian government has always maintained the immigration agreement is of utmost importance.

Speaking last year, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Italy "has the moral duty, before the right, to fight the traffic of human beings in every way in every form and with every measure."

The Italian government insists the immigration deal is a success, pointing to the significant drop in arrivals of immigrants on Italian shores.

Colonel Gadhafi and his entourage are also scheduled to meet with Italian business leaders in Rome. A separate agreement signed between Italy and Libya provides for Italian defense contracts in Libya and oil and gas concessions for Italian energy companies such as ENI and Enel.

Speaking at a conference in Italy last Thursday, ENI chief executive Paolo Scaroni confirmed his oil company's plan to invest $28 billion in Libya during the next 10 years.