The longest-serving leader in the Arab world arrived at France's parliament building today to a fanfare of trumpets and a state salute by the French Republican Guard.
The red carpet was rolled out for Col. Muammar Gaddafi, but it did not lead to the National Assembly's speaking podium. Behind the pomp and ceremony, controversy brewed.
The Libyan leader had an hour-long meeting with a few obliging lawmakers, among them the president of the National Assembly. His request to address parliament had been turned down; opposition members were refusing to meet him, as were disapproving ruling party members.
"It's indecent to roll out the red carpet for a dictator," communist parliament member Marie-George Buffet told reporters.
"If we don't talk to those who are making an effort to rejoin the international community, we condemn them to return toward marginalization, and I don't think we work for peace this way," Bernard Accoyer, the president of the National Assembly, told reporters in justifying his decision to welcome Gaddafi to the National Assembly.
A few dozen protesters showed up in front of the National Assembly this morning and were quickly dispersed by the police.
But the polemics on Gaddafi's visit started ahead of his arrival yesterday, when he had not even set foot on French soil. France's top human rights official strongly criticized the Libyan leader, telling a French newspaper that France was not a "doormat" on which Gaddafi could wipe off the blood of his crimes.
Secretary of State Rama Yade, 31, denounced the timing of the visit. Yesterday was World Human Rights Day. She was later summoned to the Elysee Palace for a 30-minute meeting with President Sarkozy. She did not offer her resignation, and Sarkozy did not ask for it. And he later reaffirmed his confidence in Yade. The festivities could start.
The rest of the day was all about business. At the Elysee Palace last night, Sarkozy and Gaddafi oversaw the signing of contracts, including the sale of 21 Airbus planes, and framework agreements. In all, deals signed with Libya this week are expected to total $14.7 billion.
Experts like Dominique Moisi from the French Institute of International relations believe no one is fooled by the purpose of Gaddafi's visit: It's about diplomacy but also business.
"It's France's wish to be the Western country in the forefront on the normalization of international relations with Libya. So, France wants to be in the forefront for diplomatic reasons but also a lot for economic reasons. That is to put France in a good position to obtain big contracts with this country, which was for a long time cut off from the rest of the world," Moisi told ABC News.
On the streets of France, reactions were mixed. An IFOP poll for Paris Match magazine found that 61 percent of respondents did not approve of Gaddafi's visit.
"It's quite simply pure hypocrisy. 'Come, come, we have many things to sell' -- this is what shocks me -- to the detriment of human rights," Masah Regai told ABC News.
Few here can forget that the Libyan security services were behind the bombing in 1989 of a French civilian airliner over Niger, which killed 170 people. The Libyan agents found guilty of the crime were sentenced in absentia. They were never extradited to France.
In 2003, the year Libya said it would dismantle its nuclear arms program, paving the way for the return of Gaddafi on the international scene, Libya agreed to compensate the families of the victims of the UTA bombing.
Muammar Gaddafi is in France through Saturday. He is scheduled again to meet with Sarkozy Wednesday. He will also visit the Chateau de Versailles and its royal stables. It is believed he will go on a hunting escapade while there. He is also due to visit the tomb of Gen. De Gaulle (Gaddafi is said to be an admirer) in Colombey les Deux Eglises.
In his luggage, apart from his checkbook, Gaddafi brought a Bedouin-style heated tent, which has been set up in the elegant garden of the official guest residence and one-time mansion of Baron Gustave de Rothschild, the Hotel Marigny.
Gaddafi did not sleep in it. But it was closely guarded by his all-women guarde rapprochee, wearing combat style clothes.
"He is a bit of a megalomaniac. He's got a strong personality and he does not let anybody stand on his toes. I think he is now more open and it's a good thing," Oswald Pea, who lives just outside Paris, told ABC News. "I hope the contracts signed will bring positive things to Libya and Africa."