Why is Italy honoring Libya's Qaddafi on coup anniversary?
As trade between Italy and Libya expands, Italy to honor Qaddafi with Air Force's aerobatics team. But some Italians compare this 'undeserved' honor to Scotland's release of Lockerbie bomber.
MILAN, ITALY – Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his military coup next month with an air show by one of the world’s best aerobatic squads – the Italian Air Force’s “Frecce Tricolori” or Tricolor Arrows.Skip to next paragraph
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The aerial homage to Qaddafi and other signs of Italian respect – Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi intends to attend the Sept. 1 ceremony – is yet more evidence of how Qaddafi has rehabilitated his image in Europe after being accused of bankrolling or harboring agents who carried out deadly attacks on civilians there in the 1980s.
But it's also spurring strong criticism here in Italy. The opposition Democratic party says it objects to spending so much money honoring Mr. Qaddafi: “How much does it cost us Italians to clear the image of the Libyan dictator?” asked Sen. Marco Perduca.
There are also emotional and historical issues at stake. Qaddafi followed up on his coup with the forcible expulsion of about 20,000 Italian nationals living in Libya at the time, whose possessions were confiscated. He said that was retaliation for Italy’s colonization of Libya decades earlier – despite Italy having agreed to pay $5 billion in reparations to Qaddafi's regime. (An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that reparations had been paid to the government Qaddafi had deposed.)
“As Qaddafi celebrates 40 years of his rules, we’re celebrating 40 years of humiliations” says Tripoli-born Giovanna Ortu, who heads an association of Italians expelled from Libya. “I really don’t see the need to give him all these honors, especially after the way he treated us."
( A story about the Italians who were expelled from Libya can be found here.)
Qaddafi’s government has been accused of harboring the terrorists behind the hijacking of Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, which claimed the life of an American tourist. The following year Libya fired two Scud missiles at a US Coast Guard station on the Italian island of Lampedusa, though both missed their target.
But that all appears to be in the past. Libya and Italy have recently signed a number of economic deals, mostly over energy, and reached an agreement to try to stop illegal immigration from Africa. Mr. Qaddafi visited Rome for the first time in June.