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Kadhafi call for jihad unacceptable: UN top official

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(GENEVA) - The United Nations and European Union rallied behind Switzerland Friday after Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's call for jihad against the country, with a top UN official branding the move unacceptable.

While Switzerland maintained a studied silence to prevent strained ties with Libya from plunging further, others said the declaration was unacceptable.

"I believe that such declarations on the part of the head of state are inadmissible in international relations," said UN Director-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze, when asked by journalists about one state calling for holy war on another.

"I'm not even talking about actions," he added.

The spokesman for the EU's foreign affairs chief termed Kadhafi's call "unfortunate."

"If these reports are correct... (they) come at an unfortunate moment when the European Union is working closely with Switzerland trying to reach a diplomatic solution" to a long-running battle between the two countries, said Lutz Guellner, spokesman for EU high representative Catherine Ashton.

France also called Kadhafi's statement "unacceptable" and urged both countries to settle their differences through diplomacy.

Kadhafi turned up the heat in his country's dispute with Switzerland on Thursday, calling for jihad over a recent Swiss ban on the construction of minarets.

"Jihad against Switzerland, against Zionism, against foreign aggression is not terrorism," Kadhafi said in a speech in the city of Benghazi to mark the birthday of the Muslim prophet Mohammed on Friday.

The call marked a new low in Libyan-Swiss relations, which soured in July 2008 when Kadhafi's son Hannibal and his wife were arrested and briefly held in Geneva after two domestic workers complained they had mistreated them.

The row escalated when Libya swiftly stopped two Swiss businessmen, Rashid Hamdani and Max Goeldi, from leaving its territory on immigration and business offences. It deepened again last year when a tentative deal between the two countries fell apart.

Hamdani's conviction was overturned by a court in Tripoli in January, and he has now returned home, while Goeldi surrendered to authorities this week and is now serving a reduced sentence of four months.

Both countries are imposing visa restrictions on each other's nationals, despite talks into this week that have also involved European partners.

Kadhafi's latest offensive is "bad news for Switzerland," said Hasni Abidi, the director of the Geneva-based Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World.

"This shows that the Libyan colonel is extremely biased against Switzerland and the conservative clan hostile to normalisation with Bern is stronger than the reformers," he told AFP.

He said Libya had toughened its line after Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa met his Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy Rey in Madrid last week in a bid to improve relations.

This indicated that the meeting in Madrid was "a total fiasco," said Abidi, adding: "The Swiss must seek another form of management of the crisis."

However, another source who spoke on condition of anonymity pointed out that Kadhafi had earlier also made other threats against Switzerland -- such as calling for the dissolution of the Alpine country.

"He's not credible," the source said, pointing out that Kadhafi had little sway in the Arab world and among Muslim groups.

Muslims in Switzerland also spoke out against Kadhafi.

Such talk "did not shock us, as he often says such nonsense," said Yasar Ozdemir, a member of the Swiss Federation of Muslim Associations.

Hafid Ouardiri, a former spokesman for the Geneva mosque, said: "He has absolutely no credibility in making this call as he represents only himself, and not even his people, so he has no authority to make such a call."

The call for jihad "reinforces the xenophobic discourse which fosters certain extremists here in Switzerland," he added.

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