BRUSSELS, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- The European Commission has reacted coolly to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's request for $6.3 billion a year to stop illegal African immigrants from entering the European Union.
"We are not commenting on statements by Mr. Gadhafi," Matthew Newman, a spokesman for the commission, said Tuesday in Brussels. He added that that it was through "dialogue and comprehensive cooperation" that the EU was trying to stop illegal migration.
Libya's eccentric leader, who always travels with his trademark Bedouin tent, on a visit Monday to Italy caused outrage by saying that Europeans should pay at least $6.3 billion a year or face a mass influx of migrants from Africa.
"Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European and might even be black, as there are millions (of Africans) who want to come in," he was quoted as saying by the EUobserver news site.
Gadhafi also drew the ire of the Vatican for urging a group of several hundred young women paid to accompany him during his trip to convert to Islam. Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted Gadhafi as telling the women, some of whom wore headscarves, that "Islam should become the religion of Europe."
A Vatican official said the comments were provocative and showed disrespect for Roman Catholic Italy.
"To speak of the European continent converting to Islam makes no sense because it is the people alone who decide consciously to be Christian, Muslim or to follow other religions," Archbishop Robert Sarah told Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Gadhafi's 3-day visit to Italy comes as Italian-Libyan relations have improved over the past years, with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is rather eccentric himself, developing friendly personal ties with the Libyan leader.
Berlusconi, who just bought two world-famous soccer players -- Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho -- for his club AC Milan to boost his chances for re-election, has brushed aside criticism of Rome's ever-closing ties with Tripoli, a country blamed for frequent human rights abuses. Italian companies, however, are eager to strike defense and industry deals in the robustly growing Libyan economy.
The relationship with Europe as a whole has been difficult, though.
Earlier this year, Libya clashed with Switzerland over visa issues in a row that inspired Gadhafi to call for Switzerland's dissolution.
Tripoli in February stopped issuing visas for Schengen citizens, which includes EU countries as well as Switzerland, in retaliation for a Swiss decision to deny entry to 188 Libyans, including Gadhafi and his family.
Gadhafi has ruled Libya since taking power in a military coup 41 years ago. As a result of terror attacks traced back to the Gadhafi regime, Libya endured economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation during the 1980s.
Relations with the West have been improving constantly during the past few years, with European companies eager to strike energy deals with oil-rich Libya.