PARIS (AFP) — France announced plans to sell nuclear reactors to Libya as well as 10 billion euros of trade deals, as President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi on Monday for a five-day visit.
Kadhafi arrived earlier in Paris on his highest-profile foreign trip since his return to international respectability four years ago, which has drawn protests from French rights groups and the government's own rights minister.
Travelling with a delegation of several hundred people Kadhafi -- who last visited the French capital in 1973 -- was driven in a white limousine from the airport straight to a meeting with Sarkozy.
Later at the Elysee Palace, the two countries announced the nuclear cooperation accord and some 3.2 billion euros (4.7 billion dollars) of contracts for European planemaker Airbus -- for 21 aircraft purchased by Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways.
Paris and Tripoli agreed to work together to develop the "peaceful use of nuclear energy", including "the supply of one or more nuclear reactors for the desalinisation of sea water" and uranium exploration and exploitation.
The accord follows a memorandum signed in Tripoli in July during a visit by Sarkozy, immediately after Libya agreed to release six Bulgarian medics jailed on charges of infecting children with HIV/AIDS.
It is the second nuclear cooperation deal between France and an Arab country, following an accord struck by Sarkozy in Algiers last week. A similar agreement is in the pipeline with Morocco.
The United States gave its blessing Monday to the deal, saying it expected its former foe to respect its decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction.
"In light of Libya's historic decision in 2003 to rid itself of its WMD programs, we expect any cooperation with Libya on a peaceful secure and responsible use of nuclear power to be consistent with the highest standard of non-proliferation," said Kurtis Cooper, a State Department spokesman.
Since his election, Sarkozy has aggressively promoted French nuclear know-how abroad, saying that Paris is "ready to help any country" develop civilian atomic power.
Libya also signed a memorandum promising to negotiate exclusively with France for all future military purchases, though details were not released.
As Libya seeks to modernise its armed forces following the lifting of a European arms embargo in 2004, France is hoping to sell it Rafale fighter jets developed by French company Dassault Aviation.
An informed French presidential source told AFP that Libya was planning to buy 14 Rafale fighters, as well as 35 helicopters and other military equipment in a deal worth a total of 4.5 billion euros.
Deals were also signed with French construction group Vinci, nuclear group group Areva and water giant Veolia, for a total value of around 10 billion euros, according to the Elysee.
Sarkozy's government has fended off charges that it has betrayed its rights commitments by inviting the Libyan leader, who despite his rehabilitation by the West is accused of continuing violations.
Sarkozy said after meeting Kadhafi that he had asked him for "progress on the path of human rights" and that he stood by his choice to invite him.
"France is hosting a head of state who has definitively given up on obtaining nuclear weapons... who has chosen definitively to renounce terrorism and who has chosen to compensate the victims," he said.
But France's minister for human rights, Rama Yade, distanced herself from the trip, which started on the UN-designated Human Rights Day, denouncing the continuing practice of torture in Libyan jails and the lack of a free press.
"Colonel Kadhafi must understand that our country is not a doormat on which a leader -- terrorist or otherwise -- can wipe off the blood of his crimes. France should not receive this kiss of death," she said.
Yade's titular boss, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, said France was right to welcome the former pariah as a sign of "openness", but neither minister was present at the dinner hosted for Kadhafi at the Elysee.
Kadhafi is staying at the 19th-century Hotel Marigny, a nearby guest residence, where a Bedouin tent complete with dancers and musicians has been set up in the garden to welcome guests.
Police arrested around 80 people -- both Kadhafi opponents and supporters -- for demonstrating nearby without authorisation.
On Tuesday, Kadhafi will visit the National Assembly and deliver an address at the UN culture organisation UNESCO. Later in the week he is to meet a delegation of women from France's high-immigration suburbs, and take a trip to the chateau of Versailles.
He is expected in Spain on December 17 where he will meet Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
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