Gaddafi talks of olive branches and business deals but the old threat of violence still remains

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The Independent Online

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader who was once considered one of the world's most dangerous men, came to Europe for the first time in 15 years yesterday offering an olive branch and business deals, along with a veiled threat of a return to violence if provoked by "evil" from the West.

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader who was once considered one of the world's most dangerous men, came to Europe for the first time in 15 years yesterday offering an olive branch and business deals, along with a veiled threat of a return to violence if provoked by "evil" from the West.

The pariah turned peace advocate swept through the normally staid headquarters of the European Union like a movie star in brown Bedouin robes, flanked by his trademark female bodyguards in blue camouflage. He gave a clenched fist salute to about 200 supporters outside the building while a smattering of protesters barricaded across the street shouted "Gaddafi, murderer!"

Inside, as Colonel Gaddafi and his host, the European Commission president, Romano Prodi, posed for photographers, a man pretending to be a security guard slipped forward and tried to hand Colonel Gaddafi a letter before being hustled away, shouting as the paper went flying overhead.

Col Gaddafi, stone-faced, ignored the bedlam and continued shaking hands with a grinning Mr Prodi. After three hours of talks Mr Prodi declared himself "very happy" about the historic visit, which he said he had worked for five years to arrange.

When Col Gaddafi spoke, he spoke as the new man, the self-styled man of peace. He acknowledged that Libya had trained fighters who had gone out "all over the world" and had unjustly been accused of "some kind of terrorism".

By this analogy, Nelson Mandela would be a terrorist, Col Gaddafi said. "We did our historical duty when duty had to be done by arms," he said. "Libya fought America and shot down its pilots and its aircraft. But now the time has come to reap the fruits of this armed struggle, namely peace, stability, development. Now we are facing new challenges, which are common enemies to all of us." Once, Libya had led a liberation movement in the Third World and Africa, he said. "Now Libya has decided to lead the peace movement all over the world."

Whereas Tony Blair seemed inhibited when he visited the once-shunned Libyan leader a month ago, Mr Prodi was enthusiastic in his welcome. "I am very happy about the visit of Colonel Gaddafi to the commission. This is the result of five years of personal contacts and discussions between the two of us," he said.

Once, Mr Prodi was reprimanded by EU governments for floating the idea of a visit to Brussels by the Libyan leader. Yesterday he was relishing the changed diplomatic climate. "Today is a great day for which I want to thank warmly Colonel Gaddafi and all his collaborators," he said.

Even the Commission president fidgeted uncomfortably, however, as Col Gaddafi rambled on for half an hour to hundreds of journalists gathered for their only scheduled chance to hear him speak during the two-day visit. Proclaiming Libya as a bridge between Europe and Africa, Col Gaddafi called on the EU to set up projects to stop the flow of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya to Europe. "We cannot be the guards of southern Europe." But he went on: "Britain and America who fought us one day now are looking for investments, trade, friendship, commerce. We need European and American companies to update and modernise the wells of oil and gas."

The prospect of Libyan oil was accompanied by a subdued threat. He concluded by saying that an upsurge in violence across the Middle East could undo Libya's conversion, apparently referring to the US-led occupation of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I hope we shall not be prompted or obliged by any evil to go back or look backward," he said.

There are still a few obstacles on Libya's path back to respectability. Germany is still negotiating with Libya over the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub, La Belle, by Libyan agents, and is seeking acknowledgment and reparations. And when children in a Libyan hospital became infected with HIV, Bulgarian doctors and nurses working there were blamed. The Bulgarians were imprisoned and put on trial. A verdict is still awaited.

Mr Prodi said: "I am studying a possible initiative of the Commission to help in a meaningful way in this respect." That could mean that the European Commission will end up giving some disguised form of compensation to Libya.

Mr Prodi said he was fully confident that satisfactory solutions would be found "in the next few weeks" to outstanding issues. If they are, then the Commission hopes that Libya will submit a letter of application to join the European Union's programme of co-operation with Mediterranean and north African states.

The EU leader hosted a lunch for Col Gaddafi, which was attended by a handful of European commissioners, including Chris Patten and Neil Kinnock. Col Gaddafi also met Javier Solana and had talks with the Belgian Prime Minister. The visit continues today with further meetings with the Belgian parliament.

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