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Turkey’s Erdogan meets Libyan leader as regional tensions rise

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul on Sunday, just days after the Turkish leader said he was ready to send troops into Libya if requested by Tripoli.

The closed-door meeting, which was not on Erdogan’s official agenda, took place in Istanbul’s Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, the Turkish presidency said without giving details.

During the previous meeting between the two men, in Istanbul on November 27, the two countries agreed a deal on security and military cooperation, as well as maritime jurisdiction.

The deal came despite calls from the Arab League — which includes Libya — to end cooperation with Turkey in protest at its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE back Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya who launched an offensive in April in a bid to seize the Tripoli from fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) of which Sarraj is the prime minister.

Turkey and Qatar openly support the UN-recognised GNA.

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The November military deal was introduced in the Turkish parliament on Saturday.

The maritime part of the deal expands Turkey’s continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is particularly important given the recent discovery of vast gas reserves that has triggered an exploration scramble between adjacent states and international oil companies.

The Turkey-Libya agreement was strongly condemned by several countries, including Greece and Cyprus.

Erdogan declared on Tuesday that Turkey is prepared to send troops into Libya if requested.

On Saturday his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that there had not yet been any such request.

In another sign of the Turkey-Libya rapprochement, Ankara announced on Saturday that Libyans younger than 16 or older than 55 would be allowed to enter Turkey without visas.

Strongman Haftar in April launched an assault to seize Tripoli.

On Thursday, he announced a “decisive battle” to wrest the Libyan capital from the GNA government.

GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha responded by saying his government was ready “to push back any mad attempt by the Haftar putsch leader”.

VANGUARD

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