Fri, Nov 26, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Chirac pushes new Libya partnership

BYGONES With the passing of the bad old days when the North African country supported terrorism, France is angling for a new coziness with Qaddafi's regime


President Jacques Chirac, who arrived in Libya Wednesday on the first visit by a French head of state, expressed the desire for a "true partnership" with Tripoli after years of "heavy turbulence."

Speaking to about 200 people at the residence of the French ambassador, Chirac said he wished to "rebuild a strong dialogue and to establish a true partnership" with Libya, after years in which the North African country had supported terrorism.

Welcoming Chirac with a military guard of honor at the vast Bab Azizia palace, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi met the French president, accompanied by three ministers and a trade delegation, for 45 minutes.

Qaddafi said he was "happy to welcome a friend, and honored that the president of the republic came to Libya," said Chirac's spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont.

After the military honours, Qaddafi, dressed in a traditional brown tunic, guided Chirac through the ruins of the complex that still bears the traces of a US bombing raid in 1986.

They then drove by limousine for talks in a tent.

The French president's 24-hour trip to Tripoli gives France the chance to stake a claim for lucrative business contracts that should follow Qaddafi's promise to liberalize the oil-rich country's heavily controlled economy.

Qaddafi, who came to power in a 1969 coup, has undergone a spectacular diplomatic reversal in the last year since agreeing to stop developing weapons of mass destruction, denouncing terrorism and acknowledging responsibility for the Lockerbie and UTA plane bombings in the 1980s.

Evoking those bombings, and a 1986 Libyan attack on a West Berlin nightclub, Chirac said those affairs had now "come to an end," after a great deal of work and perseverance, and respect for the memories of the victims.

In January, relations with France were rekindled after a foundation run by Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, agreed to pay US$170 million dollars in compensation to the families of victims of the 1989 attack on the French UTA flight over North Africa, in which 170 people died.

Chirac said progress made so far "is promising. We must now consolidate it and move forward."

Qaddafi said that since Libya had given up on weapons of mass destruction "it wants technology transfers to allow it to develop its civilian industry by peaceful means," Bonnafont said.

Chirac for his part said "France was open to technology transfers to those who respect the standards of international law," according to Bonnafont.

But talks on France's role in Africa may be tense, after Qaddafi said in remarks published Wednesday that he had "never understood the reasons for France's military presence in Africa," calling Paris' recent intervention in Ivory Coast a mistake.

The comments came in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper in which Qaddafi said France and Libya should work together to bring progress to Africa.

For his part, Chirac said France hoped to embark on a "deep and trusting political dialogue" with Tripoli and that France would support the "reform movement and the opening up of businesses" in Libya to the outside world.

French businesses are keen to get access to contracts in the Libyan oil industry, as well as in aviation, banking, electricity, sanitation and tourism.

France is Libya's fifth-largest supplier, with exports of 272 million euros last year, most linked to major public works contracts.

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