Libya considering constitutional reforms: Italy

Italy has strong ties with Libya, which it occupied for 30 years until 1943.

Last Updated: Feb 21, 2011, 12:49 PM IST

Rome: Libyan authorities are considering constitutional changes as they try to cope with a week of unrest by anti-government protesters demanding political and economic reforms, the Italian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

Italy has strong political and economic ties with Libya, which it occupied for 30 years until 1943, and has been watching the violent protests unfold there with a certain degree of alarm.

In addition to its interests in Libya, Rome fears any relaxation of border controls could send thousands of African migrants to Italy, as was the case when border controls collapsed following the ouster of Tunisia`s longtime president last month.

On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had been in "close" contact with Libyan authorities, and had told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the "possibility of a reform of the Constitution that could be taken up soon by the People`s Congress”.

No details were given.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969 in a military coup and has ruled the country without an elected Parliament or Constitution since then. According to US diplomatic cables posted last month by WikiLeaks, Gaddafi has supported the adoption of a Constitution by Libya`s supreme legislative body, the General People`s Congress, and as recently as 2008 draft copies were floating among members of a committee he had appointed.

But the cables also spoke about resistance to a Constitution by hard-liners who say it isn`t necessary.

Protesters have demanded Gaddafi`s ouster, a Constitution and other political and economic reforms. On Sunday, Libyan forces fired on mourners at a funeral for anti-government protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi, a day after commandos and foreign mercenaries loyal to Gaddafi pummelled demonstrators with assault rifles and other heavy weaponry.

The Italian Foreign Ministry statement said the Libyan interior minister had been mediating between government institutions and the opposition for a "peaceful solution to the problems”. The statement said Italy considered stability in the country to be "crucially" important for the region and Europe.

Bureau Report