Gaddafi arrives in Italy, business in focus

Reuters Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi arrived in Rome on Sunday for a two-day visit that has aroused a mixture of curiosity and controversy over Tripoli’s growing influence in the Italian economy.

Media reports have focused on the tent in which Gaddafi sleeps on foreign visits as well as the 30 horses he is bringing to take part in an equestrian show on Monday, when he will meet Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

There has also been much speculation over whether he plans a repeat of an event on his last visit when 200 Italian women recruited by a hostess agency were invited to hear his thoughts on Libya and the role of women in Islam.

But there has also been criticism of Libya’s expanding interest in the Italian economy, with attention focused on the stake of some 6.7 percent built up in UniCredit, one of the country’s biggest banking groups.

Politicians from the Northern League party, Berlusconi’s coalition allies who have frequently spoken out against foreign immigration, have criticised the investment and called on market regulator ConSob to investigate.

Opposition politicians have also attacked Berlusconi for his close relationship with Gaddafi and for riding roughshod over human rights over a deal under which Libya has agreed to take back illegal immigrants trying to sail to Italy from its ports.

The Libyans’ record as investors has had support from business leaders including the chairman of Assicurazioni Generali SpA, Cesare Geronzi and the head of Banca Popolare di Milano, Massimo Ponzellini.

Sunday’s visit to Italy is Gaddafi’s fourth since a 2008 agreement under which Berlusconi agreed to pay $5 billion in reparations for damage inflicted during Italy’s colonial rule over Libya in the early part of the 20th century.

Economic ties between the two countries have developed strongly, and Italy, now Libya’s biggest trade partner, buys much of its oil and natural gas from the energy-rich North African state.

As well as its shareholding in UniCredit, Libya owns a stake in oil company Eni and has expressed interest in many more, including power company Enel.

The visit, to celebrate the second anniversary of the 2008 Italian-Libyan friendship agreement, has been the subject of much uncertainty. Gaddafi’s arrival date was changed twice and he arrived in Rome more than an hour later than expected.

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