“Brother Guide,” as the good colonel has let it be known he likes to be addressed, has just finished a rip-roaring state visit to the French capital. Invited for 3 days, he asked to stay two weeks. In the best traditions of diplomacy, a compromise was found and Qaddafi pitched his tent in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny for five days, plenty of time to enjoy the best that Paris has to offer, and you can be sure that his 400-strong delegation did not fail.
Not everyone was happy to see Qaddafi arrive in Paris. Rama Yade, the junior minister for human rights and a Sarkozy protÃ©gÃ©e was, to put it mildly, incensed. She stated that “Colonel Qaddafi must understand that our country is not a doormat upon which a leader, whether terrorist or not, can come and wipe from his feet the blood of his crimes. France must not receive the kiss of death.” Strong words indeed, the kind of words you’d expect to hear from the opposition.
Yade’s direct boss, Bernard Kouchner the foreign minister, wasn’t terribly keen on welcoming Brother Guide to France either. He stood by his outspoken junior minister. Slightly more tactful, the head of French diplomacy excused himself from the state dinner in honor of the Libyan leader because “fortunately” he already had a previous engagement in Brussels, which of course he could not possibly break!
Nor did the opposition parties welcome the Libyan leader with open arms. In fact, they noisily vacated the premises in protest when Qaddafi came to visit the French Parliament. Several members of the ruling UMP party also found convenient reasons not to attend.
But do not be misled, despite all the noise and gesturing, Col. Qaddafi was made very welcome in France. His every whim was catered for, from the erection of the Bedouin tent in which he stayed, to closing off all of Paris’s bridges when he took a river cruise. When he said he wanted to meet working class people, they took him to visit a Renault factory. When he said he wanted to meet 200 women, they invited the most successful women in French politics, business and culture to a reception in his honor.
There can be no doubt about it, France has given Col. Qaddafi the bells and whistles welcome he wanted. Though the last four years have seen Libya rehabilitated into the international arena, it still has dubious status. Libya is attractive enough to forge economic ties with but not respectable enough to roll out the red carpet for. France is the first Western country to grant Col. Qaddafi a state visit.
So what’s in it for France? President Sarkozy jumps up and gesticulates in excitement: “10 billion euros!” He rages at those who dared criticize. The deals signed with the Libyans translate into some 30,000 jobs. Airbus has signed contracts for the sale of 21 aircraft. A nuclear cooperation accord was signed which will see France sell at least one nuclear reactor to Libya, for peaceful purposes of course. Libya has also signed an agreement to negotiate exclusively with France for future military purchases.
All of this translates into jobs and money for the French economy, so what if Libya does not have an exemplary track record on human rights? Sarkozy’s message is stark and simple. He welcomed Hu Jintao. He welcomed President Putin. Why should he not welcome Col. Qaddafi? Business is business after all.
So does Sarkozy think that human rights issues are irrelevant to foreign affairs? No, that charge would be unfair. He argues â€” and to a large extent he is right to do so â€” that it is better to engage in dialogue than to close doors in people’s faces. He wants to “encourage those who renounce terrorism”, as Libya did in 2003. Much better to use this opportunity to discuss human rights rather than simply to condemn. He assured us that he had a frank and forceful discussion on human rights with Col. Qaddafi. He encouraged Qaddafi to make “progress on the path of human rights.”
Pretty sound rhetoric, except that his guest did not seem to play on cue. You can accuse Qaddafi of being many things, but boring and predictable is not one of them. In his one televised interview, he was asked about his discussions on human rights with the French president. “Human rights? No we did not discuss this subject!” he countered. Oops, there goes diplomacy.
But on Wednesday, the terrorist attacks in Algeria gave him an opportunity to make good. He was quick to condemn the attacks and to declare Al-Qaeda criminals. The French presidency breathed a sigh of relief.
As for Rama Yade, she was summoned for a 30-minute put down by Sarkozy. She was not sacked, nor did she apologize. She has, however, softened her stance. It seems she still has the support of her mentor. She certainly has the support of the French people. The latest poll found that 81 percent agreed with her statement and 87 percent thought she should not be fired. This youngest and most outspoken member of Sarkozy’s team has shown once again this week that speaking your mind might put your job on the line but it gains you respect.
(AP) Rashid Rauf, a British suspect in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners, escaped from police custody in Pakistan on Saturday, officials said.
Rauf escaped after appearing before a judge at a court in the capital, Islamabad, said Khalid Pervez, a city police official.
Pervez said Rauf managed to open his handcuffs and evade two police guards who were taking him back to jail in the nearby city of Rawalpindi.
“We do not know how he escaped. But we do know he has escaped and the two policemen have been taken into custody for negligence,” Pervez told The Associated Press.
Federal Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said he had been informed of the escape, but said he had no details.
The British government this week denied media reports that Rauf was to be extradited from Pakistan as part of a secret deal involving the arrest in Britain of two suspects wanted by Pakistan.
“I don’t know anything – I’m shocked,” Rauf’s father, Abdul Rauf, told The Associated Press by telephone from Birmingham, 200 miles (321 kilometers) north of London.
Rauf, who also has a Pakistani passport, was arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in August on a tip from their British counterparts.
He has been described as a key suspect in a purported plot to blow up jetliners flying from Britain to the United States, which prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carry-on items.
Rauf was arrested and charged in Pakistan with possessing chemicals that could be used in making explosives and with carrying forged travel documents.
The prosecution later withdrew the case against him and held him accountable only for possessing bomb-making materials and living in Pakistan without valid documents. Later, a higher court – acting on an appeal by Pakistani authorities – suspended the anti-terrorism court’s ruling until Jan. 15.
A judge then extended his detention until Jan. 19.
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