Libya commander Haftar visits Russia ahead of conference

Haftar met with the Russian defense minister in Moscow on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Libya commander Haftar visits Russia ahead of conference

  • Russia’s military has long shown backing for the powerful Libyan commander, who dominates eastern Libya
  • Russia is expected to send high-level representatives to the Palermo meeting

MOSCOW: Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian media reported, signalling Kremlin support ahead of a conference aimed at settling the north African country’s years of strife.

Russia’s military has long shown backing for the powerful Libyan commander, who dominates eastern Libya.  

He has visited Russia before, and last year the Russian Defense Ministry hosted him aboard its sole aircraft carrier.

Shoigu and Haftar discussed the Libyan crisis and the security situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Russian news agencies said, citing a defense ministry statement, without giving details.

Italy will host an international conference on Libya on Monday and Tuesday, which Haftar will attend, Italy has said. 

Haftar’s office said the meeting in Moscow had covered ways to end Libya’s crisis and the fight against terrorism.

Russia is expected to send high-level representatives to the Palermo meeting.

The international community formally backs the transitional government in Tripoli, but Egypt and the UAE have lent Haftar support and European states including France courted Haftar as his power grew.

UN efforts to stabilize Libya have long been undercut by the divergent agendas of foreign powers.

France has vied for influence with Italy, which has sought to protect its oil and gas interests and stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, by building ties in Tripoli.

 

 

In recent weeks, Western powers and the UN have quietly stopped talking about the election in December, without formally declaring it dead.

In May, France had persuaded major players in the North African country to verbally agree to elections on Dec. 10 as a way of ending repeated rounds of bloodshed between competing factions.

But weeks of fighting between rival militias in Tripoli and deadlock between rump parliaments in Tripoli and the east has made that goal unrealistic, Western officials argue.

Shelving the plans for presidential and parliamentary elections is the latest setback for Western powers.

Instead of pushing for a vote as a short-term goal, UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame was focusing in a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday on staging a national conference next year and fixing the economy, diplomats said.

The conference would aim to forge consensus in a country divided between hundreds of armed groups controlling mostly minimal territory, towns, tribes and regions.

Salame plans to push again for economic reforms to end a system benefiting armed groups that have access to cheap dollars due to their power over banks.

Salame is the sixth UN special envoy for Libya since 2011.

Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September, including a fee on purchases of foreign currency, can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes as long as the central bank remains divided and predatory factions retain their positions.

The reforms have so far done little to improve conditions for ordinary Libyans hit by steep inflation and a cash crisis linked to the fall of the dinar on the black market.

For the militias, the sources said Salame would outline a new “security arrangement” for Tripoli aimed at depriving them of control of key sites and integrating their members into regular forces — something that has proved elusive in the past.

Talks to unify rival camps launched in September 2017, shortly after Salame took up his post, ground to a halt after one month with Haftar’s role a key sticking point. Many in western Libya oppose him, fearing he could use the position to seize power.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army says it is committed to the election process, in which Haftar himself is a possible candidate.


Another Turkish journalist jailed over Gulen links

Ali Unal was chief writer at the now-defunct Zaman newspaper. (Supplied)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Another Turkish journalist jailed over Gulen links

  • About 250 people were killed in the coup attempt and in the subsequent crackdown, Turkey jailed 77,000 people pending trial

ISTANBUL: A court sentenced Turkish journalist Ali Unal to 19 years in jail on Wednesday on a charge of being a leader in the network accused of carrying out a failed coup in July 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
The ruling followed a sustained crackdown in the wake of the coup attempt, but also came amid steps by the government that appear aimed at improving ties with the US and Europe, strained by the sweeping campaign of arrests.
Unal was chief writer at the now-defunct Zaman newspaper, widely seen as the flagship media outlet for the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says orchestrated the attempted putsch. Gulen denies any involvement.
Speaking by video link from jail to the court in the western province of Usak, Unal denied being a founder or leader of the network and denied involvement in the putsch, Anadolu said.
“I have no link with any terrorist organization,” he said, adding that he had spoken five or six times to Gulen and that he was being tried over his writing.
He was sentenced to 19 years and six months for “leading an armed terrorist group.” Six other Zaman journalists were convicted on similar charges in July.
About 250 people were killed in the coup attempt and in the subsequent crackdown, Turkey jailed 77,000 people pending trial. Authorities also sacked or suspended 150,000 civil servants and military personnel and shut down dozens of media outlets.Illustrating the scale of its actions, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday his ministry had dismissed 23 percent of its career personnel over links to Gulen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said some journalists helped nurture terrorists with their writing, and that the crackdown is needed to ensure stability in a NATO member bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. Critics say Erdogan has used the crackdown to muzzle dissent and increase his own power. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has also criticized the crackdown. The verdict came a day after another court threw out the conviction of former Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak, annulling a verdict sentencing her to two years in prison in absentia on charges of carrying out propaganda for Kurdish militants.