Sarkozy's welcome for Gaddafi provokes 'kiss of death' outburst from minister

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The Independent Online

Muammar Gaddafi pitched his tent in the centre of Paris and provoked a furious row in the heart of the French government yesterday. President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to invite the Libyan leader for a six-day state visit was criticised by French and Libyan opposition politicians and human rights groups.

Embarrassingly for President Sarkozy, the chorus of protest was joined by his Human Rights minister and personal protge, Rama Yade. Mme Yade, 30, one of a trio of young politicians from immigrant backgrounds who have been catapulted into government by M. Sarkozy, said she was "disturbed" that Colonel Gaddafi was arriving in Paris on "human rights day" to sign multibillion-euro contracts.

France should not have accepted such a "kiss of death", she added, saying: "Colonel Gaddafi should understand that our country is not a doormat on which any leader, terrorist or not, can come to wipe the blood of his actions from his feet."

Mme Yade was later summoned to the Elyse Palace for what is presumed to have been a 30-minute dressing down by the President. There were rumours that she might be fired, but that would require M. Sarkozy to accept he had made a mistake in thrusting such an inexperienced and fiercely outspoken woman into government in the first place.

Mme Yade is not the only minister to have signalled displeasure that France should have provided a step-ladder for Colonel Gaddafi's attempt to climb back to international respectability. The Foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said yesterday he would not attend a reception for the Libyan leader because "luckily" he had a prior engagement in Brussels. France is the first Western country to invite Colonel Gaddafi for an official visit since he abandoned his nuclear weapons programme and support for terrorism in 2004. The trip is a reward for his agreeing to bow to the high-profile diplomacy of President Sarkozy and his then wife, Ccilia, in July and free six Bulgarian doctors imprisoned in Libya.

Colonel Gaddafi pitched his Bedouin tent in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, the French government's official guesthouse for VIPs, in the centre of the city. But the Libyan leader was expected to sleep in the house. He startled his French hosts a few days ago by announcing that his visit would last for six days instead of three. Much of his time in Paris is unaccounted for.

Colonel Gaddafi asked to meet the "French working class" by visiting a Renault factory. He also said he wanted to meet "200 French women".

A reception has been arranged with some of the most successful women in the French political, business and cultural worlds, although it is not clear whether this is what the Libyan leader had in mind.