The French mastery of diplomatic niceties was put to the test last week when Libya’s “Brotherly Leader” dropped by for a five-day official visit. Moammar Gadhafi wore his signature eccentric dress and even brought a tent, pitched beside the Elysée Palace. The invitation was part of a deal brokered by President Nicolas Sarkozy last summer that saw the release of five Bulgarian nurses, held for eight years on trumped-up charges of in-
tentionally infecting Libyan children with HIV.
The usual platitudes of a diplomatic visit never materialized. Gadhafi lashed out at France’s treatment of North African migrants: “They brought us here like cattle to do hard and dirty work, and then they throw us to live on the outskirts of towns, and when we claim our rights, the police beat us.” He also assured his audience at UNESCO that Libya had a perfect human rights record, and later denied Sarkozy had even raised that subject with him during the visit.
With critics and the media accusing the French leader of coddling a megalomaniac dictator, Sarkozy hastily arranged a meeting with families of those who died on a French plane destroyed over Niger in 1989— an attack for which the Gadhafi regime was blamed and for which it paid compensation, as it did for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. But the public’s tolerance of the Libyan leader’s presence wore especially thin every time traffic snarled as Gadhafi ventured out in his 20-vehicle motorcade, complete with a band of female bodyguards, whether to admire treasures at the Louvre or shoot pheasants at a presidential hunting preserve near Versailles. The oil-rich leader did leave some gifts: US$15 billion worth of contracts to buy a nuclear power station, Airbus planes, and fighter jets. This week, it was Spain’s King Juan Carlos’s turn to host Gadhafi, who was no doubt warned that the monarch is less tolerant of diatribes—in November he told Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to “shut up.” M
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