Tags: Kadhafi | France

French Women Warned: Rise, Don't Upset Kadhafi

Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 09:47 AM

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Moamer Kadhafi held a debate in Paris with 1,000 specially invited women on feminist issues - but the audience was warned in advance not to "upset" the Libyan leader.

"Mr Kadhafi would like the women of France to rise when he arrives," Khadidja Khali, head of the French Union of Muslim Women, announced to the gathering late Wednesday at a reception hall just off the Champs Elysees.

"Welcome your excellency," the women chanted as Kadhafi entered the hall, which is near the tent he has made his headquarters while on a five day trip to the French capital.

The Arabic music blared out, Libya's spiritual leader was given a standing ovation and then Kadhafi staked his claim to be a defender of the feminist cause and opponent of terrorism, flanked by his unit of women-only bodyguards.

Clad in green fatigues, their dark hair pinned under army caps, half a dozen of Kadhafi's "Amazon" guards, all highly-trained recruits from an elite Libyan officers' academy, scanned the crowd from the edge of the stage.

Most of the women in the audience were of African origin but came to Paris from across France. Most had veils, many wore elegant African-style evening gowns.

The debate on "the situation of women around the world" was carefully organised. Khali, who also heads a pro-Libyan organisation, warned the audience "you must not upset him".

In their comments to Kadhafi, some women asked for financial support for their groups and even for air tickets so they could take children from France's troubled suburbs on holidays to Libya.

But they gave several standing ovations as the Libyan leader spoke of the plight of women on his home continent. "Women in Africa are the victims of injustice," he said. "They raise children. Men marry several times and abandon their children."

Kadhafi is known for taking powerful steps in favour of women's rights in Libya, banning polygamy and reforming divorce laws to guarantee women custody of their children and force absent fathers to pay alimony.

There was less applause however when he criticised "the tragic conditions for women in Europe, sometimes forced to do work that they do not want to do." Kadhafi went on to quote jobs such as mechanics and builders.

"I want to save European women," he said.

"I really appreciated his speech on women in Africa but it was a bit more vague on Europe," said Zahra Boughaz, a 24-year-old, who came to the meeting with 200 others from a woman's association in the northern town of Maubeuge.

"He doesn't seem to really know Europe because here we have choices. Or maybe he was trying to be provocative."

"I think he is a good man, he has done a lot for women and always defended them," said Nicole Sahart, president of the Club of Friends of the United States of Africa, a relatively new pro-Libyan organisation.

But there has been a storm of political controversy over Kadhafi's presence in France - strict security has been imposed for all of his trips around Paris - and not everyone in the audience appreciated the Kadhafi stance.

"How can he say he has done a lot for women in the world when he tortured the Bulgarian nurses," said Catherine Chastenet, head of the Women and Freedom association.

"But I am leaving with some hope. He gave guarantees on terrorism."

Kadhafi condemned two car bomb attacks in Algiers this week, which killed dozens, as "reprehensible acts" and said the Al-Qaeda members behind them were "criminals".

The Libyan leader, whose country was involved in the 1988 bombing of a PanAm airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie and of a French passenger jet over Niger, has patched up relations with the West after renouncing terrorism.

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