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26th Feb 2024

Libyan leader seeks €5 billion a year to halt EU-bound migrants

  • Colonel Gaddafi told Italians they should convert to Islam (Photo: Flickr/Ammar Abd Rabbo)

Libya's eccentric ruler Muammar Gaddafi has caused outrage in Italy by saying Europeans should convert to Islam and pay billions for him to stop African migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

"Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European and might even be black, as there are millions [of Africans] who want to come in," he said, amid other remarks, at a business leaders' event in Italy on Monday (30 August).

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The EU should consider paying Libya "at least €5 billion a year" for it to stop the migrants, he added.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2008 signed a readmission agreement with Mr Gaddafi aimed at stopping migratory flows and involving a contribution of €5 billion, with Italy keen to Europeanise the financial commitment in the current age of austerity.

Ties between Mr Gaddafi and Mr Berlusconi have grown stronger over the past two years. Politics aside, the two elderly men share a passion for young women, with the Libyan leader famously hiring beautiful female bodyguards for his entourage.

Some 800 Italian women, some wearing Islamic headscarves, were organised by a hostess agency and paid for by the Libyan government to escort Mr Gadaffi on his three-day visit to Italy. Several hostesses who took part in a meeting on Sunday told reporters that he had lectured them on Islam, and then presided over a ceremony in which a handful of them converted.

An equestrian parade was also staged during his visit, with dozens of purebred Berber horses being brought in from the petro-rich African state for the event.

The Italian press lambasted the "humiliating circus" (La Repubblica) and quoted the Libyan leader as telling the women that "Islam should become the religion of Europe."

For his part, Mr Berlusconi said critics of the visit were "prisoners of outdated ideas" and hailed Italy's relationship with Libya at the evening ceremony on Monday, which was packed with representatives of the country's biggest companies, looking for lucrative contracts.

One of the CEOs present at the event was Pier Francesco Guarguaglini from the defence engineering group Finmeccanica who said "let's hope so," when asked about the prospect of winning business in Libya, Reuters reports.

Italy's close ties with Libya have been criticised by human rights groups and the United Nations' refugee agency, which repeatedly flagged up the inhumane and even life-threatening treatment that migrants are subjected to when taken back by Libyan authorities.

Mr Berlusconi credited good relations between Italy and Libya "for countering with success the trafficking of illegal migrants from Africa to Europe, [which are] controlled by criminal organisations."

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