Moammer Qadafi, Libya's leader, lashed out at Switzerland yesterday, decrying it as an "infidel, obscene state which is destroying mosques" and called for Muslims to rise up against the country in holy war. In a speech to mark the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, Mr Qadafi also called for economic sanctions against Switzerland over its decision last year to ban the building of minarets.
"Let us fight against Switzerland, Zionism and foreign aggression," said Mr Qadafi. "The masses of Muslims must go to all airports in the Islamic world and prevent any Swiss plane landing, to all harbours and prevent any Swiss ships docking, inspect all shops and markets to stop any Swiss goods being sold." He told supporters that the Swiss referendum last year, in which 57.5 per cent of voters called for a ban on the construction of minarets, proved it was an "infidel state".
Although the proposal was put forward by the Swiss People's Party, the largest in parliament, which claimed the structures were a sign of Islamisation, the move was opposed by the Swiss government which said it would harm the country's image and alienate the 350,000 Muslims who live there. Yesterday's verbal attack is the latest twist in a long-running battle between the two countries that was sparked by the arrest in Switzerland two years ago of Mr Qadafi's son and his wife, who were accused of beating their servants.
Libya responded by cutting oil contracts and closing down Swiss subsidiaries. It then last year arrested two Swiss businessmen on visa irregularity charges. Max Goeldi, a senior manager with the Swedish-Swiss engineering firm ABB, and Rachid al Hamdani, who worked for a small construction firm, were sentenced in absentia last November to 16 months in prison. After they were released on bail, they sought refuge in the Swiss Embassy in Tripoli.
The Swiss president, Hans-Rudolf Merz, had travelled to Tripoli last year to make a public apology for Hannibal Qadafi's arrest in a move that was supposed to have led to his return to Switzerland with the two businessmen. He returned alone. Last week, Mr Goeldi was forced to leave the embassy and surrender, apparently in a bid to head off any further confrontation. He was fined US$780 (Dh2,850) and will serve a four-month prison sentence for immigration offences.
Mr Hamdani, who also took shelter in the embassy, emerged earlier. His conviction was overturned on appeal and he reportedly left the country last week. Libya has denied that the arrests were linked to the arrest of Hannibal. Both the United Nations and the European Union have described Mr Qadafi's call for jihad "unacceptable" and urged the two countries to work out their differences diplomatically.
During his speech yesterday in Benghazi, Mr Qadafi tried to distinguish his call for jihad from al Qa'eda's, which he described as a "kind of crime and a psychological disease". "There is a big difference between terrorism and jihad, which is a right to armed struggle," he said. @Email:email@example.com * With additional reporting from agencies