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Libyan Leader's Visit to France Brings Storm of Protest

By Lisa Bryant
10 December 2007

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives in Paris Monday for a five-day visit that has already generated a storm of protest from those who have not forgotten Libya's reputation as a supporter of terrorism. Lisa Bryant reports from the French capital the visit is also expected to generate business.

Mr. Gadhafi visit to France comes after several years of warming relations between the two nations that hit a low point in 1989 with the crash of a French DC-10 airliner in a bombing over Niger. A deal was struck to compensate the victims and former French president Jacques Chirac visited Libya soon after.

The invitation for the Libyan leader to visit Paris was issued by France's current President Nicolas Sarkozy after Paris helped secure the release of Bulgarian medics jailed in Libya on charges of infecting children with HIV/AIDS.

France and Libya are expected to sign a number of business agreements, including Libyan purchases of a nuclear reactor, Airbus planes and possibly Rafael fighter jets.

Mr. Sarkozy has defended the visit - as did his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner Monday on France Inter Radio. Still, Mr. Kouchner said he was resigned to Mr. Gadhafi visit - calling it a necessity.

Kouchner said it was important both to keep pushing for the principle of human rights and for the economic interests of France. And besides, he said, Libya has changed from the days it was labeled a terrorist state.

But opposition politicians, intellectuals and human rights activist have blasted the visit as an insult to terrorist victims. Remarks by Mr. Gadhafi in Portugal Friday that appeared to support terrorists did not help his cause here. The French government has also faced criticism for its intervention regarding the Bulgarian medics - and France's parliament is investigating the circumstances of their release.

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