Erdogan and Putin call for Libya ceasefire from Sunday

The two leaders Erdogan and Putin inaugurated the TurkStream pipelines, which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe via the Black Sea. (AP)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Erdogan and Putin call for Libya ceasefire from Sunday

  • Two presidents inaugurated TurkStream pipelines, which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe
  • Improved ties between the two countries have been facilitated by a number of major energy and defense deals

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin called on Wednesday for a ceasefire in Libya after talks in Istanbul, where they also inaugurated a "historic" gas pipeline.

The leaders used a joint statement to call for a truce from midnight on Sunday "supported by the necessary measures to be taken for stabilising the situation on the ground" in Libya, where they are seen as supporting opposing sides.

Last week, Turkey sent its first troops to help defend the Tripoli government and Erdogan says there are 2,500 Russian mercenaries supporting the LNA's Khalifa Haftar -- a claim denied by Moscow.

Earlier, they inaugurated the TurkStream pipelines, which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe via the Black Sea.

Erdogan described it as a "project of historic importance", while Putin noted the strengthening "partnership of Russia and Turkey in all domains".

TurkStream and the Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic allow Russia to increase gas supplies to Europe without having to rely on Ukraine.

But Moscow's increasing domination of European energy markets has worried the United States, which last month sanctioned firms working on TurkStream and the almost-completed Nord Stream 2.

The ceremony in Istanbul reflected a dramatic improvement in ties between Russia and Turkey, who appeared on the verge of war less than five years ago after Turkey shot down a Russian jet.

They have established a regular dialogue over the Syrian conflict, despite being on opposing sides, but had appeared to be on a fresh collision course over Libya.

Putin arrived late on Tuesday after paying a surprise visit to Syria -- his first to Damascus since the war began -- at a moment of acute uncertainty in the Middle East following the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by the United States.

Syria remains a potential powder-keg for Erdogan and Putin's relationship.

Syrian government forces -- backed by Russia -- have ramped up bombardment of the last rebel strongholds in Idlib province in recent weeks, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing towards the Turkish border.

Erdogan has called for a truce in Idlib, following previous temporary halts to the fighting brokered with Russia in late 2018 and updated in August last year.

"Russia's demands are very simple," said Yury Barmin of the Moscow Policy Group think tank. "Turkey must do more to eliminate terrorist cells in Idlib. The discussions will be around this idea."

Improved ties between the two countries have been facilitated by a number of major energy and defence deals. Russia is building Turkey's first nuclear plant and last year delivered the S-400 missile defence system, to the consternation of Turkey's NATO allies.

Putin earned goodwill in Turkey after his quick support for Erdogan following an attempted coup in July 2016.

The two men have developed a "strong personal relationship", according to Jana Jabbour of Sciences Po university in Paris, who adds that "their economic and energy plans are interdependent".

The TurkStream project, which was temporarily halted during a frosty patch in Russia-Turkey relations, includes two parallel pipelines of more than 900 kilometres (550 miles).

The pipeline links Anapa in Russia to Kiyikoy in northwestern Turkey and has already begun deliveries to Bulgaria. It is being extended towards Serbia, Hungary and Austria.


Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

Updated 20 January 2020

Lebanon president to chair crisis talks over weekend violence

  • The meeting will touch on “security developments” in the country
  • Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s under-fire president is set to meet Monday with top security officials to discuss rare violence over the weekend that left hundreds wounded in the protest-hit country.

Michel Aoun will be joined by the care-taker ministers of the interior and defense as well as the chiefs of the military and security agencies in the early afternoon, his office said in a statement.

The meeting will touch on “security developments” in a country rocked since October 17 by unprecedented protests against a political class deemed incompetent, corrupt and responsible for an ever-deepening economic crisis.

It will also address “measures that need to be taken to preserve peace and stability,” the state-run National News agency (NNA) reported.

Demonstrators at the weekend lobbed stones, firecrackers and street signs at riot police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a flashpoint road near parliament.

Over the most violent weekend in three months of street protests, some 530 were wounded on both sides, according to a toll compiled by AFP from figures provided by the Red Cross and Civil Defense.

Lawyers and rights groups have condemned the “excessive” and “brutal” use of force by security forces.

Human Rights Watch accused riot police of “launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque.”

Internal Security Forces, for their part, have urged demonstrators to abstain from assaulting riot police and damaging public or private property.
Protesters had called for a week of “anger” over the political leadership’s failure to form a new government even as the debt-ridden country sinks deeper into a financial crisis.

Lebanon has been without a government since outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29 in the face of popular pressure.

Political factions agreed on December 19 to appoint former education minister Hassan Diab as the new premier but have since squabbled over ministerial posts and portfolios.

Protesters have demanded a new government be comprised solely of independent experts, and exclude all established political parties.

The United Nations’ envoy to Lebanon pinned the blame for the violence on politicians.

“Anger of the people is understandable, but it is different from vandalism of political manipulators, that must be stopped,” Jan Kubis wrote on Twitter on Saturday.