- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

ROME | Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gave Italians a contradictory take on women’s rights Friday, criticizing Islam’s treatment of women but then suggesting it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive.

The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers from hundreds of prominent Italian women at a Rome auditorium.

At times he appeared to strike out for women’s rights, but he also backed some of Islam’s strictest tenets and criticized the history of women’s emancipation in the West.

Col. Gadhafi, a self-styled feminist on his first trip to Italy, arrived at the auditorium dressed in traditional robes and surrounded by his female bodyguards. After his speech, he reached out to the veil of a woman in his entourage and used it to wipe the sweat off his brow.

Addressing more than 700 prominent businesswomen and female politicians, Col. Gadhafi received applause when he lamented that in some Arab and Islamic countries, “a woman is like a piece of furniture - you can change it when you want.”

He brought as an example the fact that in some Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, adding that it’s not up to governments to recognize that right.

“If anything, it’s up to her husband, her brothers or the father to give her permission,” Col. Gadhafi said, drawing loud boos from the audience.

Italy’s Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo told the ANSA news agency she found the speech “contradictory” though she appreciated some of the statements.

Col. Gadhafi drew more jeers when he said women gained their freedom in the West only thanks to wars during which men went off to fight, forcing women to find work.

“We can say that the European woman became emancipated, but the reason is not development or voluntary choice, but rather a constriction, a need,” he said.

In a further embarrassment later Friday, the head of the lower chamber of parliament canceled an event with Col. Gadhafi because the leader was running more than two hours late.

Long delays have been a constant of Col. Gadhafi’s trip. The Libyan Embassy said in a statement that the latest snag was due to Col. Gadhafi’s participation in Friday prayers.

The four-day visit, which ends Saturday, has highlighted the strong political and economic ties between the two countries, capped by Italy’s $5 billion compensation agreement signed last year to make amends for Rome’s 1911-41 colonial rule.

But the visit has also caused protests.

On Thursday, Col. Gadhafi dismayed some Italian lawmakers by calling for dialogue with terrorists and comparing the 1986 U.S. air strikes on Libya to Osama bin Laden’s terror attacks. He then made a contested appearance at Rome’s main university, where protesting students clashed with police.

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