The visit to Italy is Gaddafi's fourth since 2008, a sign of increased diplomatic and economic relations [AFP]

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has arrived in Italy  for a two-day visit that has aroused a controversy over Tripoli's growing influence on the Italian economy.

Gaddafi's visit, aimed at celebrating the second anniversary of the 2008 Italian-Libyan friendship agreement, began on Sunday, and is his fourth since a 2008 agreement under which Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, agreed to pay $5bn in reparations for damage inflicted during Italy's colonial rule over Libya in the early part of the 20th century.

Economic ties between the two countries have developed strongly, and Italy, now Libya's biggest trade partner, buys much of its oil and natural gas from the energy-rich North African state.

But there has also been criticism of Libya's expanding interest in the Italian economy, with attention focused on the stake of some 6.7 per cent built up in UniCredit, one of the country's biggest banking groups.

Politicians from the Northern League party, Berlusconi's coalition allies who have frequently spoken out against foreign immigration, have criticised the investment and called on market regulator ConSob to investigate.

Criticism

Opposition politicians have also criticised Berlusconi for his close relationship with Gaddafi, particulalry reflected through a recent deal under which Libya has agreed to take back illegal immigrants trying to sail to Italy from its ports.

Local media reports meanwhile have focused on aspects like the tent in which Gaddafi sleeps on foreign visits as well as the 30 horses he is bringing to take part in an equestrian show on Monday, when he will meet Berlusconi.

In Rome, reporters and television cameras gathered at a Libyan cultural centre after a hundreds of young women reportedly recruited by a hostess agency were invited to hear him talk about converting to Islam.

Gaddafi's visit has been the subject of much uncertainty, and his arrival date was changed twice.

Source: Agencies