Even after 40 years in power, Libya`s Colonel Gaddafi has some bold ambitions. His ideas for African unity involve the creation of a United States of Africa modelled on the EU – an idea he set out at the recent African Union summit. As thousands of Africans continue to head north in search of a better life in Europe, he also has strong views on immigration. The Libyan leader, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the African Union, is attending the G8 summit in Rome. Before leaving for Italy, he spoke to Euronews from Tripoli.
Euronews: Allow me to speak of Italy. You went there recently and you received a formal welcome from the Italian authorities, including the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Can we say that a corner’s been turned and that a new era of openness has begun between Libya and Italy?Col Gaddafi: Yes I think so, and it’s in both Italy and Libya’s interests as well as those of the Mediterranean basin, Europe, Africa, world peace and co-operation between states. We need to move on from this terrible past to open a new era of co-operation and friendship, to be able to apologise for what happened and compensate people who suffered from the colonial era. And that’s what’s happened, there’ve been apologies and compensation has been agreed upon. We can’t do better than that. Euronews: But we noticed from your visit to Italy that you had attached to your lapel the photo of Omar al Mokhtar – the libyan national hero who was executed by Italian colonial authorities. That gesture was perceived as provocative. What did you mean by such a move? Col Gaddafi: That’s for people to interpret as they wish. In Rome journalists asked the same question and I replied by saying ‘and why do you wear the cross?’ I even replied for them, I said that you and Christians in general wear the cross believing that Christ died in a terrible way by being crucified – even though he was the prophet of love, peace and mercy and did not deserve as dreadful a death as crucifixion. That’s why as Christians you commemorate and immortalise that event by wearing the cross. I said to the journalist who asked me the question: we too, we think that Omar al Mokhtar was killed terribly, he was executed by being hanged, he wasn’t even shot even though he fought for freedom, for the dignity of his country, for its independence in the face of a barbaric foreign invasion. That’s why he merits our bearing his photo in the same way that you do the cross. Euronews: There’s a problem that concerns not only Italy but Europe generally, and that’s illegal immigration. Under an agreement illegal immigrants should be repatriated to Libya. Only yesterday Libya found itself taking back around 90 immigrants who’d arrived off the Italian coast. What do you do with those immigrants, do you grant them asylum or what exactly happens to them? Col Gaddafi: It’s absolutely not a question of asylum. Asylum concerns a limited number of people for political reasons, or after a war or natural disasters. But we’re faced with successive waves of immigration towards Europe because of the poverty which reigns in Africa. Africans believe that their wealth has been plundered, that`s why they chase after riches. When they work in Europe, they think it`s their right to do so because Europe lives very well off African resources. Euronews: Colonel Gaddafi, when I was walking the streets of Tripoli yesterday, a slogan caught my attention which said: “wherever you go, happiness reigns”. Do you really think that 40 years after the revolution, the Libyan people are happy? Col Gaddafi: First of all, I haven’t seen those slogans and I’m not responsible for them. Unlike you, I can’t wander the streets freely taking time to read slogans. If I’m in the street, it’s in the middle of an official convoy, so I have no knowledge of this slogan. But if that’s the case, the people who thought up that slogan acted with good intentions. They think well of this government and that gladdens me. I’ve done my best to make my people happy and free. Euronews: One last question: today you bear the title of King of kings in Africa, you’re also the most senior of Arab leaders. You’ve written the “Green Book” on the subject of democracy, society and the economy. You’ve instigated major plans, what is there left for Colonel Gaddafi to do, does he have other goals? Col Gaddafi: In truth, I hope that Arab unity will come about one way or another, especially as Arabs have been divided. In a world built around alliances and superpowers, they’re reduced to simple pieces of paper, like feathers carried off by the wind. Perhaps Arabs are now ready for some Arab unity. I’ll go even further: I hope to see the birth of an Arab-African union.