Angry at Switzerland, Libya's Qaddafi tries collective punishment of Europe

Libya strongman Muammar Qaddafi, still miffed that Switzerland briefly arrested his son for allegedly beating his servant while visiting the European nation, has banned most European travel to Libya.

Irada Humbatova/Reuters/File
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi arrived at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, January 31.

Muammar Qaddafi is used to throwing his weight around internationally, and usually gets what he wants, thanks to sitting on top of the Africa's largest proven oil reserves.

Now, he's taking on the entire European Union in an effort to bring tiny Switzerland to heel. On Tuesday, Libya announced that no visas would be issued to travelers of the "Schengen area" -- a reciprocal visa zone for twenty-five European nations, in retaliation for Swtizerland placing Qaddadi and 187 other Libyans on a visa blacklist.

Qaddafi's hard ball tactics, which have served him well in the past, already appear to be bearing fruit. On Wednesday, Italy, which has extensive trade ties with its former colony, and Malta formally asked Switzerland to remove the Libyans from the blacklist, which also prevents their travel to the rest of Europe. A number of Italian and Maltese business travelers were detained and questioned at the Tripoli airport in recent days, and some of them complained that the Libyan authorities treated them like criminals.

"The European Union can’t be held hostage over a bilateral issue," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Tuesday, urging Switzerland to lift the travel ban before his government's formal request.

Switzerland's entanglement with Qaddafi's regime stretches back to July 2008, when Qaddafi's son, Hannibal, and his wife were detained in Geneva after their servants complainied they were subjected to beatings by the couple. The two were released on bail and the charges were dropped after an anonymous benefactor reportedly made payments to the servants.

But Qaddafi never likes to back down from a fight. Shortly after his son's original arrest in Switzerland, he had his police arrest two Swiss businessmen in Libya. They have been detained in the country since, something which prompted Switzerland to place the Libyan officials on the blacklist.

If Qaddafi gets his way on the visa issue, it won't be the first time.

Last August, Scotland released Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted for the murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 20 years ago, at a time when the United Kingdom was seeking stronger ties with Libya and BP was seeking a piece of the lucrative oil business in Libya.

Scotland said the release was on grounds of "compassion" and that Mr. Megrahi had only six months to live. But the convicted mass-murderer was received with a hero's welcome in Tripoli by Qaddafi's son Saif and he is still alive today.

In the 1990s, Qaddafi had 5 Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor arrested and charged with attempted murder after an HIV outbreak at a Libyan hospital because of lax infection controls. The Libyan state said the foreign medical workers deliberately infected over 400 Libyan children. They served eight years in Libya before being released in 2007, after Libya received a promise of stronger ties with the EU and, Libya said, a promise of payment to the families of the infected children.

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