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Turkey’s parliament to vote on sending troops to Libya

Ankara wants to preserve Tripoli government so as to maintain Libyan support in its maritime disputes with Israel, Greece and Cyprus

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses the members of his ruling party, in Ankara, Turkey, December 26, 2019. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses the members of his ruling party, in Ankara, Turkey, December 26, 2019. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament is to vote Thursday on whether to send Turkish troops to Libya, to back the UN-supported government in Tripoli that is battling forces loyal to a rival administration in eastern Libya seeking to capture the country’s capital.

The Turkish lawmakers are expected to approve the motion at the emergency session called for later in the day, and grant a one-year mandate for the deployment, despite concerns that Turkish forces could aggravate Libya’s conflict further and destabilize the region.

The Tripoli-based government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj has faced an offensive by the rival, east-based government and commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violence rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Sarraj requested the Turkish deployment, after he and Sarraj signed a military deal that allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel to Libya. That deal, along with a separate agreement on maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, has drawn ire across the region and beyond.

In this file photo from November 29, 2016, Khalifa Haftar, chief of the Libyan National Army, leaves the main building of Russia’s Foreign Ministry after a meeting with the Russian foreign minister in Moscow. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Details of the possible Turkish deployment have not been revealed. The motion to be debated in parliament allows the government to decide on the scope, amount and timing of the deployment.

Ankara says the deployment is vital for Turkey to safeguard its interests in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean, where it finds itself increasingly isolated as Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have established exclusive economic zones paving the way for oil and gas exploration.

Turkey’s main opposition party has made clear it will vote against the motion, saying it would embroil Turkey in another conflict and make it a party to the “shedding of Muslims’ blood.” It has called on Erdogan’s government to search for a diplomatic solution in Libya instead.

However, Erdogan’s ruling party is in an alliance with a nationalist party and the two hold sufficient votes for the motion to pass.

The fighting around Tripoli escalated in recent weeks after Haftar declared a “final” and decisive battle for the capital. He has the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

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