Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi arrived Monday on his first visit to France for more than 30 years, sparking protests from rights groups and criticism from the French human rights minister. According to AFP, Kadhafi was greeted at Orly airport by Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie before being driven to the Elysee palace for a meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
During the rest of his five-day stay, he will visit the National Assembly, meet a delegation of women from France's high-immigration suburbs, deliver an address at the UN culture organisation UNESCO, and take a tourist trip to the chateau of Versailles.
Meanwhile, the French minister in charge of human rights, Rama Yade, distanced herself from the visit, which she noted starts on the United Nations-designated Human Rights Day. "People disappear in this country, and no-one knows what happens to them. The press is not free, prisoners are tortured. The death penalty has been abolished for Libyans but not for sub-Saharan Africans," Yade stated.
"Colonel Kadhafi must understand that our country is not a doormat on which a leader -- terrorist or otherwise -- can wipe off the blood of his crimes. France should not receive this kiss of death," she said.
However, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said France was right to welcome the Libyan leader, because he had renounced terrorism and brought his country back into the international fold. "The fact is that the world changes. This man -- Kadhafi -- has moved from practicing terrorism to cooperation in the fight against it. Our policy is one of openness," Kouchner said.
France hopes the Libyan leader will also sign contracts worth more than three billion euros to buy Airbus planes, nuclear energy technology and possibly Rafale fighter jets.
On its part, the pro-government newspaper Le Figaro defended the invitation to Kadhafi, saying that "realpolitik should no longer be considered a dirty word." "Libya is not a small insignificant country. A major player on the oil market, at the crossroads between the Arab and African world, threatened by the advance of Islamism, Tripoli plays a vital role for stability in a part of the world where we have vital interests.
"There is no shame in recognising that and defending our interests with realism," it said, according to AFP.
But the left-wing Liberation newspaper criticized Sarkozy. "Sarkozy says that Kadhafi has changed, that it is important to support its evolution, and that other countries have renewed links with Tripoli, supposedly on the path of redemption.
"But Britain, Italy and the United States all sup with a long spoon. They have spared themselves the ridicule of rolling out all the pomp of the Republic," it said.