Libya has stopped issuing entry visas to citizens of most European countries, officials said yesterday, in an apparent escalation of its diplomatic row with Switzerland.
The visa suspension emerged a day after a Libyan newspaper reported that the North African country would take “severe measures” in response to Switzerland drawing up a visa blacklist that included Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his family.
Oil exporter Libya has been attracting growing foreign investment since it emerged from decades of international isolation and the visa move could harm its business reputation, though one analyst said the suspension would be short-lived.
A notice on France’s Foreign Ministry website said Libya had suspended visas for the Schengen area 25 European countries, including some which, like Switzerland, are not in the European Union. EU members Britain, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus are not in Schengen.
A spokesperson for Italy’s Foreign Ministry said Libya had suspended visas in response to the Swiss restrictions. “Contacts are under way between the countries of the zone to coordinate over this measure,” a ministry spokesman said.
“Libya’s unilateral step is regrettable,” a German foreign ministry spokesman said. “We expect it to be repealed.” The ministry website said previously issued visas were now invalid and that only people with residency permits could enter Libya.
Asked by Reuters to confirm reports of the suspension, an official at Libya’s main international airport, who did not want to be identified, said: “This is right. This decision has been taken. No visas for Europeans, except Britain.”
No explanation was given for the suspension, and there was no official confirmation from the Libyan government. The French ministry said the measure took effect on Sunday without warning.
Foreign executives and diplomats who work in Libya say it is common for Libyan officials to make abrupt rule changes, and then soon after return to business-as-usual.
“It’s not likely to last very long,” Charles Gurdon, a Libya expert at London-based consultancy Menas Associates, said of the visa suspension.
Libya has for months been locked in a row with Switzerland over the brief 2008 arrest of one of Gaddafi’s sons in Geneva, and the subsequent prosecution in Libya of two Swiss citizens.
Libya’s Oea newspaper reported last Sunday that Libya would retaliate against what it said was Switzerland’s decision to deny entry visas to a list of 188 Libyans, including Gaddafi, members of his family and other senior officials
“Severe measures, based on the principle of reciprocity, will be taken if it (Switzerland) does not renounce its decision before it is too late,” the newspaper cited an unnamed senior Libyan official as saying.
In July 2008, Swiss police arrested Gaddafi’s son Hannibal at a luxury lakeside hotel in Geneva on charges which were later dropped of mistreating two domestic employees.
After the arrest, Libya halted oil exports to Switzerland and withdrew more than $5 billion assets from Swiss banks.
Tripoli also charged two Libya-based Swiss businessmen, Max Goeldi and Rachid Hamdani, with visa violations and other offences. Libyan officials say their case is not linked to the Geneva arrest.
Switzerland has not publicly acknowledged the existence of a visa black-list for Libyan officials, but Swiss media has said the list is designed to target Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle.
Swiss officials have said that other states in the Schengen zone have backed Switzerland’s line on issuing visas to Libyans.