Forty years after coming to power, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi made his first visit to Rome today and promptly set up a Bedouin-style camp in one of Rome's most elegant parks.
The flamboyant Libyan dictator arrived with a 300-person entourage and a list of requests, including asking for a meeting with 700 of Italy's female business leaders.
Libya was a colony of Italy from 1911 until 1943. Today, Italy is Libya's largest trading partner, but even so the bilateral ties between the two countries have been described as a "love-hate" relationship.
"For 40 years it was more likely that Gadhafi would visit Saturn than Rome," said Libyan state newspaper al-Jamahiriya.
Gadhafi, 67, and his group of Libyan businessmen, government officials and bodyguards set up camp, literally, in the beautiful gardens of Rome's Doria Pamphilli park. A large Bedouin-style tent was erected outside the Villa Pamphilli so Gadhafi can meet his guests in traditional Libyan style.
Italian security forces have closed the area around the Bedouin camp to keep out protestors upset with Libya's support for Italy's tough immigration methods.
Gadhafi had breakfast with the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano today and will meet with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and members of his cabinet.
At the top of the agenda is the issue of illegal migration from Africa to Europe. Many immigrants in recent years have filled small, unsafe boats that set sail from Libya hoping to reach Italian territorial waters. Recently, the Italian government has forcibly returned boats to Libyan waters with the consent of the government in Tripoli. Gadhafi is also expected to discuss immigration and investment opportunities between the two countries in a speech to the Italian Senate tomorrow.
Also scheduled during his visit is a meeting with 700 female Italian business and community leaders. Gadhafi specifically requested this gathering. He held similar meetings with French women during a visit to Paris in 2007. He is credited with tripling the number of women in the Libyan work force and sees himself as the global leader for women's rights. Gadhafi also currently holds the rotating presidency for the African Union, a position that will bring him back to Italy in July for the G-8 meeting and a meeting with President Obama and other G-8 heads of state.
Rome's Jewish Leaders Angry with Gadhafi
But the visit has also attracted its share of controversy, with members of Rome's Jewish community angry with the Libyan leader over his request to meet them on Saturday, the sabbath day of rest sacred to Jews. "At the very least this shows a lack of sensitivity," Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome's Jewish community, told Reuters. "But it is also a matter of principle. We won't go as a community unless the day is changed."
Jewish leaders also want him to share the whereabouts of a Palestinian who found asylum in Libya after being sentenced for a 1982 attack on a synagogue in Rome.
The Italian paparazzi already have some experience with the Gadhafi family. Gadhafi's son, Saadi, was once a soccer player for the Perugia team and was often featured in the tabloid press for his antics. Despite rumors that he was a possible successor to his father, the elder Gadhafi never came to see his son play while he was in Italy.
Reuters contributed to this report.