June 5, 2009 / 4:58 PM / 10 years ago

Libya's Gaddafi asks to meet 700 Italian women

ROME (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has requested a meeting with 700 Italian women during his historic visit to Rome next week, when he will set up his tent in the grounds of a 17th century villa on a hill above the city.

Libyan leader and African Union chairman Muammar Gaddafi smiles at the close of a summit of Saharan states in Sabrata, 70 km (44 miles) west of Tripoli in this file photo from May 30, 2009. REUTERS/Ismail Zetouni (LIBYA POLITICS)

Gaddafi, who has a women-only corps of bodyguards, held a similar meeting on a visit to Paris in 2007 with 1,000 selected women guests, who were told he wanted to “save European women.”

He is making his first visit to Libya’s former colonial ruler Italy since he took power in a coup in 1969.

Italy, at the forefront of the West’s warming diplomatic and business ties with Tripoli since it gave up seeking weapons of mass destruction in 2003, made a formal apology last year and offered $5 billion (3.12 billion pounds) in compensation for the excesses committed during its colonial rule 1911 to 1943.

Among the requests for his visit — pitching his tent is routine on foreign visits by the nomadic-born Libyan leader — is a meeting with 700 women from Italian political, business and cultural life, to take place in a concert hall on June 12.

They will include Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna whose appointment last year raised eyebrows because, as a former model, she had been the subject of public flirting by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, angering his now estranged wife.

“Gaddafi has expressly asked to meet representatives of Italian women,” said Carfagna, calling it an opportunity to help cooperation on the economy and illegal immigration, where Libya is helping Italy patrol the Mediterranean for boats of migrants.

Carfagna told Ansa news agency she would talk to the self-styled defender of Islam about the situation of women in Africa.

As well as meeting Berlusconi and other politicians, Gaddafi will see Italian students, face protests by rights groups about the plight of Libyan dissidents and may meet some of the Libyan Jewish community who fled in 1967 after anti-Israeli riots.

Gaddafi should be back again next month, as head of the African Union, at Italy’s G8 summit which U.S. President Barack Obama will also attend.

Editing by Matthew Jones

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