Colonial sins are forgiven as Gaddafi pitches his tent in Italy

Libyan leader requests meeting with 700 female 'achievers' during visit
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The Independent Online

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi flies into Rome today on his first visit to Italy, celebrating the end of decades of animosity between his country and its former colonial power.

Since the countries signed a treaty in August last year, in which Italy agreed to pay £4.5bn over 20 years as compensation for Italy's colonisation of the North African country, business ties have flourished. Successive Italian governments have bent over backwards to accommodate the mercurial Col Gaddafi, who for decades was seen as a terrorist-sponsoring international pariah.

Roman authorities are making plans for the unexpected this week as he prepares to pitch his Bedouin tent, together with a possible planeload of camels and stallions, in the grounds of the Eternal City's sumptuous 17th-century Villa Doria Pamphili palace. As ever, his female bodyguards in green fatigues and red berets are expected to guard him round the clock.

During his visit, Col Gaddafi will meet the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the President, Giorgio Napolitano, and the heads of both houses of parliament. He has also asked for a meeting with 700 Italian women achievers. The encounter will take place in a city concert hall on 12 June.

During a similar all-female diplomatic seminar in Paris in 2007, the Libyan leader declared that he wanted to "save European women".

One of the more prominent women will be Mr Berlusconi's Minister for Equal Opportunities, Mara Carfagna, a former topless model who became a Forza Italia MP and then a minister after catching the Prime Minister's roving eye. When he declared that he would "marry [her] like a shot if I wasn't married already," his wife, Veronica Lario, demanded, and got, a formal apology.

In the run-up to the meeting Ms Carfagna has announced that she will talk to the self-styled defender of Islam about the situation of women in Africa.

The serious business of the visit is the treaty signed by the two leaders in 2008, in which Mr Berlusconi offered Italy's profuse apologies for colonial-era abuses and agreed to pay reparations. In return, Italy benefits by obtaining greater rights to Libyan oil and gas.

Libya has also given its consent to Italian navy patrols off the Libyan coast to deter the rickety people-smuggler boats which bring thousands of migrants across the Sicily Channel every year. In recent weeks, and despite UN condemnation, Italy has also begun intercepting migrant boats and taking their human cargo back to Libya.

Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911, before becoming officially a colony in the 1930s. The country gained independence in 1951.

The thaw between Libya and Italy was launched by the former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, but his successor, Mr Berlusconi, has kept up the impetus, agreeing to Col Gaddafi's demand that Italy build a motorway across the country.

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