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Libya retaliates by cutting off oil supplies to Switzerland and forcing local branches of Swiss companies, including Nestle, to close
Diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Libya were in crisis yesterday after Libya vowed "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" in retaliation for the Swiss authorities putting Hannibal, the youngest son of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in jail for two days.
Libya announced it would halt fuel supplies to Switzerland and bar the country's ships from its ports in protest at what it called the "fabricated" and "illegitimate" charges against one of Col Gaddafi's seven sons.
Hannibal Gaddafi, 30, who has a record of run-ins with police across Europe, was arrested and jailed on 15 July after staff at the luxury Geneva hotel where he was staying alerted police to violent rows in his suite. Mr Gaddafi and his wife, Aline, who is nine months' pregnant, were arrested and charged with maltreating their domestic staff. He was held in custody and later released on bail; she was taken to hospital when she complained of feeling unwell.
Tripoli reacted furiously, with Mr Gaddafi's sister, Aisha, saying that Libya would respond on the basis of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said the Libyan government has already taken action, suspending the issuing of visas for Swiss nationals and forcing Libyan branches of Swiss companies, including Nestlé, to close. Two Swiss nationals have also been arrested on various charges — Switzerland describes them as "hostages" — and Libya has cut back flights between Tripoli and Switzerland.
The Swiss said they had sent a delegation to Tripoli to explain the measures taken against Hannibal Gaddafi, "to prevent a crisis between the two countries". But clearly the crisis is already under way.
The Revolutionary Committees Movement said that if an apology was not forthcoming from the Swiss, diplomatic relations between the two countries should be cut. It also recommended "expelling Swiss companies working in Libya ... withdrawing Libyan deposits in Swiss banks and stopping airline flights between Libya and Switzerland".
Announcing the halt to oil exports, the head of Libya's General National Maritime Transportation Company said it was the "least they could do". Switzerland gets more than 50 per cent of its crude oil from Libya, but the Swiss Petroleum Association said it could cope with any interruption in deliveries. For the past two days, several hundred demonstrators have been gathering outside the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, carrying placards with photos of a beaming Col Gaddafi and his turbulent son and distributing flyers calling for an official apology to all the Libyan people.
In Geneva, the head of the canton government, Laurent Moutintot, denied Mr Gaddafi had been mistreated. "No force was used against the Gaddafi couple," he said. "The reputation of Switzerland as a country of human rights demanded that the police intervene."
Hannibal Gaddafi has a reputation as a hell-raiser, who has repeatedly shown a willingness to break the law and then invoke diplomatic immunity.
His first clash with European authority came in 2001. Returning to the Hilton Hotel in Rome at 3am he got into a brawl with police guarding his room, attacking them with bottles, emptying a fire extinguisher over them and putting three in hospital. He pleaded diplomatic immunity and no action was taken.
Three years later, while a business studies student in Copenhagen, he was chased by police when he drove his Porsche at 90mph through red lights on the Champs-Elysée in Paris, at one point going the wrong way. After police pulled him over they were confronted by his six bodyguards and a fight broke out in which an officer was injured.
The following February Mr Gaddafi was arrested in Paris after allegedly beating up a female companion who had resisted his advances, and damaging the door to her room. Later he changed rooms and was said to have begun destroying furniture before pulling a 9mm Walter PKK semi-automatic handgun on security guards at the Intercontinental Hotel. They succeeded in subduing him. Police questioned but did not detain him and he returned to Copenhagen soon afterwards.
France lodged an official complaint with the Libyan authorities and three months later he was convicted in absentia of "voluntary violence against a vulnerable person, namely his pregnant companion, which caused her total inability to work for at least eight days". He was given a four-month suspended prison sentence and a €500 fine.
The seven sons (and daughter)
Most prominent of the Gaddafi children is second son Saif al-Islam, born in 1972, a graduate of the London School of Economics and head of the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations. Often seen as the son being groomed to take over power from his father, he has been behind the opening-up of his notoriously closed country to foreign investment. Jumping on the eco-tourism bandwagon, he flew in a bevy of international journalists and investors to the Mediterranean coast last year, just to announce his commitment to all things green. Described by some as a reforming figure, he is the most internationally presentable of the possible heirs to Gaddafi's power monopoly.
The Colonel's first-born, Muhammad, heads the Libyan Olympic Committee. In September 2006, after Pope Benedict XVI infuriated devout Muslims by apparently attacking their religion in a speech in Germany, Muhammad was reported by a Saudi newspaper as saying that the only solution for the Pope was to immediately convert to Islam.
The third son, Al-Saadi, is a former professional footballer. After playing for a Tripoli team he moved to Italy, signing successively for Perugia (2003-05), Udinese (2005-06) and Sampdoria (2006-07) but in all that time he made a total of only two appearances. He was sacked by Perugia after failing a drug test. He has made dovish pronouncements about Israel, but denies strongly that he is in line to take over from his father. He has also produced films, and made a fortune from Libya's oil industry.
Mutasim-Billah, the fourth brother, fled to Egypt after reportedly being the inspiration for a failed coup against his father. Muammar forgave him and he returned to Libya where he is now national security adviser, commanding his own unit in the army. He is widely seen as the rival of Saif to take over from their father.
Gaddafi's only daughter is Aisha, a lawyer who was part of the defence team of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. She has come out in defence of her brother Hannibal in his latest troubles. Gaddafi also had an adopted daughter, Hanna, who was killed in the 1986 bombing raid by the US that destroyed his home.
Apart from Hannibal, little is known about Gaddafi's other youngest sons, Saif Al Arab and Khamis.