Gadhafi offers olive branch, veiled threat

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, once considered one of the world's most dangerous men, came to Europe for the first time in 15 years Tuesday, offering business deals and an olive branch -- along with a veiled threat to return to the "days of explosive belts" if provoked by "evil" from the West.

Gadhafi swept through the headquarters of the European Union like a movie star in brown Bedouin robes, flanked by female bodyguards in blue camouflage.

After three hours of talks, European Commission president Romano Prodi declared himself "very happy" about the visit, which he said he worked five years to arrange.

But even Prodi began fidgeting as Gadhafi rambled on for half an hour to hundreds of journalists gathered for their only scheduled chance to hear him speak during the two-day visit.

Gadhafi declared his readiness to work with the West peacefully after years of championing armed struggle against it.

"Libya did its duty when duty had to be done by arms," he said. That included firing missiles at U.S. fighter aircraft in the 1980s and setting up training camps for "freedom fighters" from around the developing world.

Now that Libya has given up its weapons programs, it has become "an example to be followed," he said.

Still, he warned an upsurge in violence across the Mideast could undo Libya's conversion, apparently referring to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I hope we shall not be prompted or obliged by any evil to go back or look backward," he said.

Neither Gadhafi nor Prodi took questions.

The visit was intended to help pave the way for normalization of relations between the EU and Libya.

The United States last week lifted most of its commercial sanctions on Libya but trade restrictions with Europe remain, including an arms embargo.

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