Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday, November 14 arrived in Tunisia for his first official visit to a Muslim country and was welcomed at the airport by presidential advisor Abdelaziz Ben Dhia. Berlusconi was due to have a working lunch with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and leave in the afternoon, Tunisian officials said.
Italy is Tunisia's second biggest trading partner after France. Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visited Tunis at the end of October, following a trip on October 5 by Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero for a joint cooperation commission session.
Rome announced a credit line for Tunis of 289.5 billion lire ($134 million) as part of a three-year program. The two countries are putting the final touches to a cooperation pact. The Italian leader blew up a storm on September 26 when he said that the West "should be confident of the superiority of our civilization", almost two weeks after the terrorist attacks on the United States.
With those attacks blamed by Washington on Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden and amid fears that US President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism" response meant a war against Islam, Berlusconi's emphasis on Christian values was widely considered unfortunate. But his foreign minister and other aides have since stressed that the prime minister was not talking about Islamic societies, but responding to criticism of the West from the anti-globalization movement.
"Mr Berlusconi has always been a very, very good friend of the Arab countries," Ruggiero said in Cairo last month. "He has good friends in Arab and Islamic countries and has always said that we must avoid anything that could bring a war of religions and a war of civilizations." — (AFP, Tunis)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )