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Saturday, 26th September 2020
11:15:39am

North Africa

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President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey was upset that Libya’s internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, an ally, wants to quit next month and Ankara may hold talks with his government on the issue in the coming week.

Sarraj announced on Wednesday his intention to step down by the end of October. The move could feed political tensions in Tripoli amid new efforts to find a political solution to the country’s conflict.

“A development like this, hearing such news, has been upsetting for us,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, adding that Turkish delegations may hold talks with Sarraj’s government in the coming week.

“With these meetings, God willing we will turn this issue towards the direction it needs to go,” he said.

Sarraj is head of the Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, while eastern Libya and much of the south is controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). His departure could lead to infighting among senior GNA figures.

The civil war has drawn in regional and international powers and Turkey supports the GNA, while the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia back the LNA. Turkey helped the GNA turn back a 14-month LNA assault on Tripoli in June.

A Turkish official told Reuters that Sarraj’s resignation announcement was the second recent surprise for Ankara in Libya after a ceasefire announcement last month.

Sarraj’s government declared a ceasefire on Aug. 21 and the leader of a rival parliament in eastern Libya also appealed for a halt to hostilities, offering hope for a deescalation of the conflict across Libya since a 2011 uprising.

“We would prefer for Sarraj to remain in his post because under his leadership a united Libya that has resolved its issues could emerge,” the official said.

“If Sarraj does not remain in office, there are some names who are involved in the processes and can take the GNA forward. These are, of course, Libya’s own issues, but Turkey may provide some support,” he added.

-Reuters

Libya’s Tripoli-based government has announced a 24-hour curfew to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus as it struggles to contain protests over deteriorating living conditions and corruption.

The curfew, which took effect on Wednesday night, was imposed by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) three days after protests in the capital and the nearby town of Zawiya began to escalate.

The decision exempts people who need to go out for essential food or medicine at nearby shops, but it angered protest supporters who posted messages online saying it was designed to prevent further demonstrations.

Some defied the order on Wednesday night and went to central Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square, where they were confronted by armed groups with military vehicles that dispersed them by force, according to an witness and videos posted on social media.

On Thursday the GNA interior ministry said it was ready to protect protesters from armed groups and “mobs”. It earlier said it supported the right to peaceful protest, and blamed violence around demonstrations on Sunday on “infiltrators”.

Global rights group Amnesty International said at least six protesters were abducted on Sunday and several were wounded after armed men fired live ammunition. 

The protests pose a new challenge for a weak and divided GNA after Turkish military support allowed it in June to repel a 14-month assault on Tripoli, located in Libya’s far northwest, by rival factions based in the east.

Fighting has died down since then and leaders from both rival camps endorsed a ceasefire last Friday.

Libya has been divided for more than five years between rival factions based in the east and west and engaged in a stop-start conflict with foreign backing. Tripoli is controlled by armed groups that are affiliated with the GNA, but often act with impunity. 

Confirmed coronavirus infections have recently surged to more than 12,200, including 219 deaths, compounding misery caused by power and water cuts and an economic crisis partly triggered by a collapse in oil production.

“We have nothing in Libya,” said Moez, a 21-year-old student who carried a banner saying “Corruption can’t build states” as he protested on Sunday.

“They speak about oil and gas and we only hear about the revenues but we live like animals - no water, no power, no money...nothing at all.”

-Reuters

Bodies of children were among those found in the Libyan town of Tarhouna after eastern-based forces and their local allies withdrew this month, Red Crescent and Tripoli government officials said on Tuesday.

The evidence of what rights groups have called possible war crimes came as Libya’s frontlines suddenly shifted, displacing thousands of civilians and leaving a trail of landmines hidden in residential areas.

The internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) retook Tarhouna, southeast of Tripoli, on June 5 as an offensive by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) to capture the capital collapsed.

GNA forces found 106 bodies in the hospital and local people discovered eight mass graves around Tarhouna, prompting the United Nations to call for an urgent and open investigation.

Libyan Red Crescent representative Faisal Jalwal told a news conference that 29 of the bodies found in the hospital had been identified and that they included women and children. 

Kamal Al-Siwi, head of the GNA’s missing persons bureau, said about 10 bodies had been disinterred from one of the eight mass graves that had been found.

Tarhouna had for years been controlled by the local Kani family and its armed group, popularly known as the Kaniyat, which had been loyal to different sides during Libya’s chaotic civil war.

The town served as an important stronghold for the LNA during its attack on Tripoli and the Kaniyat fought alongside the LNA in the southern suburbs of the capital.

A GNA justice ministry official, Nasser Ghaita, said it had issued 23 arrest warrants over the case and asked for U.N. technical help. The GNA said on Saturday that “entire families” had been killed.

The LNA has denied its forces were responsible for any of the bodies found in the mass graves and has called for the United Nations to investigate reports of violations committed by pro-GNA forces in Tarhouna.

-Reuters

Egypt said it registered 1,218 new cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, edging the total number of cases up to more than 50,000 a fortnight before it is set to further ease restrictions.

The Arab world’s most populous nation closed itself off in March to curb the spread of the disease, shutting schools, restaurants and halting almost all international flights. 

The pandemic shuttered Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which the government says accounts for 5% of economic output, but analysts say it may account for as much as 15% if jobs and investment indirectly related to the industry are included.

The country hopes to be able to welcome tourists back for the summer season and has said it plans to reopen its airports to scheduled international flights from July 1. 

The health ministry on Thursday said it registered a total of 50,437 cases of the coronavirus and 1,938 deaths. The country’s higher education minister cited a study on June 1 estimating that the actual number of cases could be up to five times higher than the figure reported.

Health officials at the beginning of the pandemic had urged citizens to report even mildly symptomatic cases, which would then be taken to designated isolation hospitals across the country.

As the infections continued to steadily rise, however, the health ministry began offering prescriptions that can be delivered to sick individuals’ homes.

-Reuters   

Pope Francis appealed on Sunday for both sides in the Libyan civil war to seek peace, urging the international community to facilitate talks and protect refugees and migrants he said were victims of cruelty.

In an impassioned plea during his noon address in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said he was pained by the situation in Libya, which has had no stable central authority since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by NATO-backed rebels in 2011.

For more than five years Libya has had rival parliaments and governments in the east and the west, with streets controlled by armed groups and sporadic fighting. 

“Please! I urge international bodies and those who have political and military responsibilities to restart, with conviction and resolve, the search for a path towards an end to violence, leading to peace, stability and unity in the country,” he said.

Egypt announced a new initiative for Libya on Saturday. Meanwhile Russia and Turkey, who support opposing sides in Libya, have postponed ministerial-level talks on the conflict.

Libya is divided between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the rival Government of National Accord (GNA) with nations split over their support of the LNA or the GNA. 

In an apparent reference to the coronavirus pandemic, Francis said the already precarious health conditions of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers had been aggravated, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation and violence.

“There is cruelty. I call on the international community - Please! - to take their plight to heart ... Brothers and sisters, we all have responsibility in this. No-one can consider themselves dispensed from this,” he said.

Human rights groups such as Doctors Without Borders have said people in migrant detention centres in Libya are being held in harmful conditions and exposed to abuses.

-Reuters

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