Italy’s PM Conte sees no rush for Libyan election

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe. (AP)
Updated 09 August 2018

Italy’s PM Conte sees no rush for Libyan election

  • Libya is a former Italian colony less than 300 km (190 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa
  • Italy and France are competing for influence in war-torn Libya, an oil- and gas-rich country

ROME: Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday that it is not vital for Libya to vote this year, signalling doubts about a French-led push to hold elections in December to stabilize and unify the North African country.

Italy and France are competing for influence in war-torn Libya, an oil- and gas-rich country which has been staging area for people smugglers who have sent hundreds of thousands of people on rickety boats toward Europe in recent years.

The nation splintered following the 2011 NATO-backed revolt that toppled Muammar Qaddafi, and since 2014 has been divided between competing political and military groups based in Tripoli and the east.

Italy has close relations with authorities in Tripoli and is the only Western country to have reopened its embassy in the Libyan capital, home to a UN-brokered transitional government. 

France is seen as closer to military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is aligned with a rival government based in the east.

Seeking to end the turmoil, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a conference in May where rival Libyan factions agreed to work constructively with the UN for a national election by Dec. 10.

But after visiting Washington last month, Conte said he would organize a separate conference, with the endorsement of US President Donald Trump.

Conte told journalists in Rome on Wednesday that the Italy conference will most likely be held in November.

“Italy’s primary interest is to stabilize Libya and to hold the presidential and political elections with appropriate guarantees. We are in no hurry to have the vote tomorrow, or in November or in December,” Conte told journalists in Rome.

Nonetheless, a French government spokeswoman said Paris wants to stick to the roadmap that was agreed upon in May and includes the holding of elections by the end of the year as Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week.

Asked whether he had received any feedback from Macron over his agreement with the US president, Conte answered that his “agreement with Trump is not to the detriment of any specific European country.”

More than 640,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since 2014 on boats mostly hailing from Libya. Numbers have fallen off sharply over the past year, but the new anti-establishment government led by Conte is supporting the Libyan coast guard to try to halt the exodus from its shores.

Libya is a former Italian colony less than 300 km (190 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, and Italy’s state-controlled oil company Eni is the biggest foreign oil producer in Libya.

“Trump has recognized a matter of fact: Libya has a strategic relevance for Italy due to historic and geopolitical reasons. The flow of migrants coming from the Libyan coast targeted mainly Italy,” Conte said.


Sri Lanka turns former military air base into third international airport

Updated 18 October 2019

Sri Lanka turns former military air base into third international airport

  • President Sirisena termed the opening of Palaly Airport for commercial flights “a significant landmark of the development program commenced after the conclusion of the conflict.”

COLOMBO: The Palaly Airport, a former military air base, has been turned into Jaffna International Airport, the third gateway to the island.

The new airport was inaugurated by the island’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet ministers also witnessed the ceremony.

The refurbished airport, costing $13.8 million, has a 1,400-meter long runway to facilitate ATR 72 aircraft, which can carry 70 passengers. It will later be expanded to 3,500 meters to handle large passenger aircraft such as the Airbus A320 and A321.

Located approximately 16 km north of Jaffna, Palaly was a Sri Lanka Air Force base and a domestic airport. The airport was built by the British Royal Air Force during the WWII.

After independence, Palaly Airport was used as the second international airport of the country for flights to southern India before the civil war began, almost 40 years ago.

President Sirisena termed the opening of Palaly Airport for commercial flights “a significant landmark of the development program commenced after the conclusion of the conflict.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said the upgraded Jaffna International Airport marked a “turning point” in Sri Lankan aviation, which would be “an asset for the entire nation.”

“The airport will deploy regional airliners and be elevated to an Asian travel destination,” the premier said.

“The airport, which is expected to accommodate direct flights between Sri Lanka and India, will contribute toward promoting the tourism industry in the north. This will play an important role in the economic growth and overall development of the country,” he added.  

The service will be made available first for Indian destinations, and later for flights to Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East and some European cities.                                                      

Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga said Palaly airport was developed into Jaffna International Airport in a very short period of time.

“We were able to overcome the challenge successfully due to the sincere assistance we received from all institutes and stakeholders contributed to the development,” he said.

The minister said that in addition to Colombo and Jaffna international airports, three more airports in Sri Lanka will be upgraded to international airports, such as Ratmalana and Batticaloa.

“The opening of Jaffna airport for regional scheduled commercial passenger operations will undoubtedly enhance the quality of life of people in the area, with improved connectivity and accessibility that the airport brings to the region. It would also help reduce the current congestion at Bandaranaike International Airport and also eliminate the difficulties of the people in the north have in coming to Colombo Airport,” said H. M. C.Nimalsiri, director general of civil aviation.