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Gadhafi departs Italy amid criticism

From Hada Messia, CNN
  • Gadhafi departs Italy after a controversial trip
  • The visit marked a bilateral agreement signed two years ago
  • Politicians and Catholics criticize the visit as a "spectacle"
  • Gadhafi met with Italian hostesses and gave them Qurans

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi left Italy Tuesday after a controversial visit during which he met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to mark a bilateral agreement.

Gadhafi arrived in Italy Sunday and met with Berlusconi the next day.

Libya and Italy signed a pact in August 2008 that normalized relations between the two countries and closed the painful chapter of Italian colonization in Libya. The pact was signed in Libya, and last year, Gadhafi made his first visit to Rome to mark its anniversary.

Many in Italy have criticized the Libyan leader's visit as a "spectacle" and an "extravaganza." Though the critics come mainly from the opposition, some are from Berlusconi's center-right coalition.

"Italy has become Gadhafi's Disneyland, the amusement park for his senile vanities," wrote FareFuturo, a foundation allied to Gianfranco Fini, a center-right politician. "The reasoning, unfortunately, is politics."

Gadhafi and Berlusconi marked this year's anniversary with an equestrian show, for which Libya sent 30 horses and riders. Italian Carabinieri, or military police, also took part in the show with their own horses.

A gala dinner with about 800 guests followed the equestrian show.

The daily Catholic newspaper L'Avvenire criticized Gadhafi's visit Tuesday in a front-page editorial titled "The proselytism of the colonel." It criticized the Libyan leader as well as Italian media for "accommodating" his "spectacle."

In particular, the editorial denounced a meeting, held Monday, in which Gadhafi handed copies of the Quran to a group of Italian women.

About 200 women belonging to a Roman hostess agency met the Libyan leader Monday at the Libyan ambassador's residence in Rome. The meeting lasted about two hours, during which Gadhafi spoke mainly about Islam and Libya, according to Barbara Persicotti, 25, one of the hostesses.

In Italy, a hostess is a woman who poses at advertising stands, helps out at events like conferences, and models.

Persicotti said Gadhafi also distributed copies of the Quran in Italian, along with the Green Book on the Libyan revolution, to all the hostesses, but she said it was light-hearted.

"It was very clear," she told CNN, "that he was joking a lot, but they were just jokes. Nothing more. He said something like 'I would like it if...' because there was a girl amongst us who had an Italian mother and a Libyan father. (He said) 'You could follow this example.' He laughed afterwards. It was clearly a joke."

She said Gadhafi and the whole event were very pleasant, and said there were no outlandish comments during the meeting.

Another hostess, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, said "nothing special" happened at the meeting, which she called "comical." She said Gadhafi frequently referred to the women as "my sisters."

"He repeated this rather shocking phrase, 'Come to Libya and get married to Libyan men.' He must have said it at least 300 times, almost every five minutes," the woman told the newspaper.