Gaddafi accuses Europeans of abusing immigrants

Other News Materials 12 December 2007 01:10 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fought back against criticism of his rights record on Tuesday by accusing European countries of abusing African immigrants.

"We, Africans, are victims of injustice. They brought us here like cattle to do hard and dirty work, and then they throw us to live on the outskirts of towns and when we claim our rights, the police beat us," Gaddafi said.

His comments at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) appeared to be aimed at France's ethnically diverse suburbs where unemployment and resentment of the police are rampant and riots flared two years ago.

Gaddafi said immigrants should have equal rights to Europeans or he would help them return to Africa.

"Europeans are outbidding us on human rights and they are asking us about the respect of human rights in our countries. Foreigners are abused in Europe and they are asking about the respect of human rights," Gaddafi said in a speech.

"Either you live respected here in Europe and enjoy the same rights and duties as Europeans or you return to Africa."

Gaddafi is visiting France for the first time in 34 years and seeking to bolster his international standing after decades as an outcast of the West.

His visit, during which a series of deals with French firms have been signed, has angered the opposition and rights groups who accuse Sarkozy of sacrificing principles to boost exports.

Sarkozy said he told Gaddafi on Monday to do more to improve human rights in Libya.

After Gaddafi dined at Sarkozy's official residence on Monday, both leaders oversaw the signing of contracts and framework agreements, including one on entering exclusive talks on the purchase of arms from France.

Sarkozy's office said on Monday the deals signed totaled more than 10 billion euros ($14.66 billion). But sources said the total appeared to contain deals already reached or to be 'guestimates' about contracts still being negotiated.

An official at Sarkozy's office said Libya had expressed a "strong intention" to buy 14 Dassault Aviation-made Rafale fighter jets, as well as 35 helicopters, six ships, armored vehicles and air defence radar.

The French public is uneasy about fostering closer ties with a man who agreed to pay compensation for the mid-air bombing of a French airliner over Niger. A poll on Monday showed one in six respondents did not approve of Gaddafi's visit.

Gaddafi fuelled the debate by saying in an interview on France 2 television on Tuesday that Sarkozy did not mention human rights when they met on Monday, as Sarkozy said he had.

"President Sarkozy and I did not discuss these subjects," Gaddafi said.

Sarkozy's junior minister for human rights has said Paris should not do business with Gaddafi without seeking guarantees on the rights situation in Libya while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was "resigned" to the visit.