Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Qaddafi bails on summit

PULLING OUT The Libyan leader took his leave from an Arab summit in Tunisia after the group failed to adopt his controversial proposal for Middle East peace

REUTERS , TUNIS, TUNISIA

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi walked out of an Arab summit on Saturday, setting back Arab attempts to put on a show of unity over Iraq, the Palestinians and the US campaign for political reform in the region.

Qaddafi said he was pulling out in protest of the agenda and the Arab League's failure to adopt his controversial proposal for a single Israeli-Palestinian state.

"Unfortunately Libya is forced to boycott the summit because it does not agree to the agenda of the Arab governments. Libya wants the agenda of the Arab peoples," he said in a rambling news conference before flying home to Libya.

The summit is expected to call for an end to the Iraqi occupation as soon as possible, remind the world of an Arab plan for peace with Israel and commit Arab governments to pursue political reform at home.

Qaddafi left the conference hall as Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa defended the 22-member league from what he said were attempts to undermine it.

"Some voices have risen up, calling for getting rid of the Arab League, or breaking it up," he said.

Thirteen heads of state and three prime ministers, as well as representatives from the six other Arab countries, took part in the opening session.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who is trapped in the West Bank town of Ramallah by Israeli forces, spoke by video-link, condemning attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians and denouncing recent Israeli actions in Gaza.

The Tunisian government unexpectedly called off the first attempt at a summit in March, arguing that some Arab governments were obstructing the reforms which the world expected.

This time, Arab foreign ministers have tried to ensure success by agreeing in advance on all key documents, including resolutions.

An Arab diplomat said the summit would criticize the "immoral and inhumane practices and crimes of the coalition forces" in Iraq and call for the trial of all those responsible, not just the US guards at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

"The resolution says the occupation should end as soon as possible and that the United Nations should have a role that is central and effective in rebuilding institutions," he added.

The two-day summit takes place at a time of deep pessimism in the Arab world about the ability of Arab leaders to help Palestinians under Israeli rule or end the occupation of Iraq by the US and its allies.

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