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Gaddafi to visit Malta this year?

Muammar Gaddafi last visited Malta in 1984.

Muammar Gaddafi last visited Malta in 1984.

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi could be making his long-awaited state visit to Malta later this year, according to ambassador Saad El Shlmani.

"I don't have any details to be honest but I think this year he will come," the ambassador told The Sunday Times.

Following an invitation by the government, he had been similarly tipped to come to Malta last year, as well as in 2005. Three years ago the Maltese government had even received a note verbale from the Libyan embassy confirming that Colonel Gaddafi had agreed to visit the island after more than 20 years.

Malta and Libya relations went through a roller-coaster phase in the 1970s and early 1980s. The last time Col Gaddafi visited Malta was in 1984 when he was accompanied by a large delegation. Through good times and bad Libya found a most loyal friend in Malta. During the decades of international sanctions and global isolation, it was Malta which sometimes provided a lifeline to the North African state.

The 66-year-old Libyan leader, once infamously described as the "mad dog of the Middle East" by US President Ronald Reagan, has presided over a process of political rapprochement with the West in last few years that led to the lifting of US-led embargos in 2004. However, he still preserves something of the rebel streak that prompted the late US president's description.

Two weeks ago, the Libyan leader alleged that African migrants were being killed as a result of Europe's patrolling of the Mediterranean.

"This tragedy is unfolding. A war on the Mediterranean sea is being waged against Africans," Col Gaddafi told leaders of African trade unions, a few days after Libya issued a strongly-worded statement saying it would sever cooperation with Italy on immigration following the appointment of right-winger Roberto Calderoli as minister in the new Berusconi government.

In an interview published today (see pages 10,11), Dr El Shlmani downplays the tension, saying that Libya considers the case closed after an apology by the newly-appointed minister.

He says that ties between Malta, Italy and Libya are very strong and productive but complains about the EU's insistence on investing in patrolling the Mediterranean while ignoring Libya's plea for help with its Saharan border.

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