French President Nicolas Sarkozy was heading to Libya on Wednesday, one day after a delegation including the French first lady flew home five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to life in prison in the North African country.
Sarkozy described his visit to Tripoli as a bid to bring the country - long considered a pariah for prosecuting the six medics on charges they contaminated children with the AIDS virus - back into the fold of the international community.
The medics' return to Bulgaria removed the last major obstacle to improved relations with Tripoli, opening the door for closer cooperation between the two countries.
With the trip, "we are renewing, renovating out relations with Libya and restarting diplomatic relations," Sarkozy's spokesman, David Martinon, told France-2 television on Wednesday.
Sarkozy, who is to touch down in Tripoli on Wednesday afternoon for talks and dinner with leader Moammar Gadhafi, was also expected to press for closer economic ties with Libya, which has important oil reserves. Nuclear cooperation would not be on the table, Martinon said.
The leaders are also expected to discuss cooperation in fighting terrorism and illegal immigration.
Sarkozy had made securing the liberation of the six medics - jailed since 1999 - a foreign policy priority since taking office in May. First lady Cecilia Sarkozy made two trips to Libya this month to push for the medics' release, and on Tuesday scored the coup of flying them home to Bulgaria aboard a French presidential plane.
Libya had accused the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor of deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV. The medics denied infecting the children and said their confessions were extracted under torture. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov pardoned the six upon arrival in the capital, Sofia.
Sarkozy's visit to Libya was to be his first since taking office. The country was to be the first stop on the French leader's African tour that is also to include visits to Senegal and Gabon.