New gas pipeline linking Libya to Italy opened
New gas pipeline linking Libya to Italy marks new era of friendship as Gaddafi thanks Italy's role in lifting EU arms
Italia's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi opened a gas pipeline between their countries, calling it a new era of "friendship and cooperation" across the Mediterranean. The two leaders inaugurated the 540 km (335-mile) West Libyan Gas pipeline at Mellita.
"The date of October 7 used to remind the Libyan people of the launch of the Italian invasion in 1911 and the
evacuation of the Italians in 1970," Gaddafi, wearing a Bedouin robe, said in a speech at the ceremony under a tent.
"We now want to make it a day of friendship and cooperation between Libya and Italy, a cooperation which has been
cemented by the gas project which we are inaugurating today," he said.
"Today, a new era of rapprochement and cooperation starts between out two peoples thanks to this project which will supply Italy with 10 % of its energy needs," said Berlusconi.
The project, started in 2003, has been built by Italian oil groups ENI and Agip in partnership with Libya's state oil
company NOC. It will carry some 10 bn cm (353 bn cf) of gas a year from Mellitah on Libya's west coast to Gela in
Sicily and then on into southern Europe.
Fuad al-Kreikshi, president of EN-Libya, said the total investment on what he called the longest gas pipeline under the Mediterranean amounted to $ 6.6 bn. According to ENI, it is also the world's deepest underground gas pipeline passing east of Malta at a depth of 1,127 metres (3,700 feet). Revenues are projected at "$ 20 bn over 20 years", Kreikshi said.
In his speech, Gaddafi, who has been in power ever since 1969, also announced that Libya would allow the return of
Italians who had been expelled by his regime in 1970.
"Our friend Berlusconi... made a modest request to the Libyan people... to allow the elderly Italians who colonised Libya and were expelled on October 7, 1970 to come and visit Libya," said ColonelGaddafi. "I call on the Libyan people to accept this request... And those who want to come and work in Libya can do so," he said.
Almost 20,000 Italians born in Libya were expelled 34 years ago and had all their possessions seized, according to
Giovanna Ortu, president of an association for Italians repatriated from the north African country.
Gas exports are at the heart of an opening up of Libya's economy, as the former pariah state returns to the international fold after its public renunciation last year of weapons of mass destruction programmes.
Gaddafi thanked Italy for its role in lifting an EU arms embargo which has been in force against Libya since 1986, a
move which due to be confirmed by European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg on October 11 or 12. Rome pressed
its EU partners to lift the embargo to allow Libya to beef up its border controls with patrol boats, all-terrain
vehicles and surveillance equipment to combat illegal immigration to Europe via Italy.
Berlusconi held talks with Gaddafi before the pipeline ceremony. The talks were expected to be dominated by the pressing issue of would-be immigrants heading for southern Europe.
Rome has identified Libya as being the main launch pad for crossings by sub-Saharan and north African migrants trying
to reach Europe via Italy, and has been pressing Tripoli for more than a year to take action.
Thousands of potential asylum-seekers have been intercepted by Italian border guards in recent weeks, mainly on the tiny island of Lampedusa off the Sicilian coast. Italy resumed its controversial response of flying the would-be immigrants en masse back to Libya, although few originate in the north African country.