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The handshake with Gaddafi...; Blair brings Libyan leader in from cold.

Byline: JON SMITH

TONY Blair yesterday shook hands with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in the latest stage of the international rehabilitation of the man once branded ``the mad dog of the Middle East''.

After two hours of talks in a tent outside the Libyan capital Tripoli, the Prime Minister said he wanted to offer Gaddafi ``the hand of friendship'' following his decision to give up weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism.

Mr Blair admitted it felt ``strange'' to be visiting a state which was a pariah for decades because of its involvement in atrocities including the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, the murder of police woman Yvonne Fletcher and supply of arms to the IRA.

But he said it was right, in the wake of the September 11 atrocities, to recognise Libya's new willingness to become a partner in the fight against terror.

Since Col Gaddafi's dramatic declaration last December that he would give up nuclear,chemical and biological weapons,Libya had offered ``full and transparent co-operation'' in the dismantling of illicit arms programmes, saidMr Blair.

``Libya's voluntary and open implementation of that decision gives us real hope that we can build a new relationship with it,one for the modern world,''he said.

Mr Blair's visit coincided with carefully choreographed announcements that British police investigating the 1984 shooting of Pc Fletcher will visit Libya next month,and that Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell is signing a multi-million pound deal with the north African state.

Britain is expected to develop closer military co-operation with Tripoli, with Libyan officers potentially coming to train at Sandhurst, while arms manufacturer BAE Systems is one of several UK companies likely to strike lucrative deals.

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram denounced the visit as ``highly questionable''.

``We have noted with interest Col Gaddafi's offer to make `common cause with us against al Qaida, extremists and terrorism', and his commitment to `full and transparent co-operation' in dismantling Libya's WMD arsenal,'' saidMr Ancram.

``If this means that Col Gaddafi can provide the West with all information on the terrorist groups, including the IRA, with which he has been previously associated, this would be a valuable indication of the sincerity of his offer.''
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 26, 2004
Words:368
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