Italy became the first European country to resume commercial flights to Libya on Wednesday following the end of major combat operations in the North African state after the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.
An Alitalia flight from Rome carrying around 100 passengers including diplomats and religious leaders landed in the Libyan capital Tripoli, where it was met by Italy's new ambassador to the country, Goffredo Buccino.
"Italy is the first country in the European Union to resume commercial flights with Libya, confirming our leading role in the country," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in a statement.
"This is an important signal confirming progress in the normalisation of the situation in Libya and a full recovery of economic and human bilateral ties with a particularly close and friendly country," he added.
Italian oil major ENI is the biggest foreign energy producer in Libya but there is concern in Italy that leading Italian companies could be passed over for contracts by other countries that helped overthrow Kadhafi.
Italy is Libya's former colonial master and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has come under severe criticism for his enthusiastic support for Kadhafi before the start of a rebellion in the oil-rich country.
Turkish Airlines and EgyptAir have already resumed flights, while bmi and Austrian Airlines have announced plans to do so later in November and December. British Airways has said it is still too early to make a decision.
Air France said in August that it could re-open the route from Paris to Tripoli more than two decades after suspending it due to a 1989 attack on an airliner that crashed into the desert in Niger, killing 170 people.
French prosecutors blamed the Libyan secret service for the attack.
by Amy Coopes
(c) 2011 AFP
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