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Borg rejects suggestions Gaddafi visit was ‘ill-timed’

Muammar Gaddafi with Hosni Mubarak in a file photo dated 2007. Photo: AFP

Muammar Gaddafi with Hosni Mubarak in a file photo dated 2007. Photo: AFP

Foreign Affairs Minister Tonio Borg has rejected suggestions that an unannounced visit to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last Wednesday was ill-timed in the light of the revolutions sweeping the Arab world.

The visit of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Dr Borg to Libya was criticised by some analysts who said the government was embracing a dictator who runs a repressive government which stifles freedom of speech or press or pluralism in politics.

But contacted yesterday, Dr Borg said it would be naive to halt diplomatic efforts with a neighbouring country.

The Foreign Minister was asked how Malta why was discussing “stability in the region” with Col. Gaddafi when he has a reputation for being a hardliner who has openly endorsed the recently ousted Tunisian and Egyptian presidents.

“Malta, through successive governments, has had close contacts with Libya since the 1960s, because there was mutual friendship. We even remained close when UN sanctions were imposed upon it. It would be a mistake to stop contacts with countries because they have governments different to ours,” he told The Sunday Times.

Dr Borg said there was nothing wrong in discussing unrest in the Arab world with the Libyan leader, especially in the wake of the 5+5 meeting being held in Malta in June.

“With the Libyans we discussed fishing, oil exploration and the visa issues, among others. We do whatever’s in our national interest. We can’t be short-sighted. Yes, I’m calm and serene after this meeting,” said Dr Borg, adding that the Tripoli meeting had been long scheduled.

International analysts believe the regimes of Algeria and Libya could be the next to be challenged by their people after historic back-to-back popular uprisings that resulted in the overthrow of incumbent heads of state Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, Libya .

Some reports suggest a protest against the country’s regime is being planned in Tripoli for Thursday while Col. Gaddafi cancelled football matches to prevent protests.

The Libyan leader is the longest-serving leader in both Africa and the Arab world, retaining control for 39 years.

Turning to Egypt, Dr Borg said the worst thing that could happen was for the change to be hijacked by extremist forces – the revolution seemed to have been secular in nature and so it should remain.

The Foreign Minister added that Malta would retain its traditional friendship with the Egyptian people.

“Egypt’s position in the Middle East, its role as an important leader of the Arab world and its relationship with its neighbours means that those who run Egypt now have a special responsibility to restore stability and start the process towards a truly free open and democratic society.”

However, he also warned the EU to desist from adopting a condescending attitude towards Arab states undergoing change, or to expect them to mould their government into Western templates.

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