‘Putschist Haftar’ has ‘ran away’ from Moscow after Libya truce talks – Turkey’s Erdogan

The head of UN-recognized government Fayez Al-Sarraj signed the cease-fire agreement, but Khalifa Haftar left Moscow without signing it, Moscow confirmed on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2020

‘Putschist Haftar’ has ‘ran away’ from Moscow after Libya truce talks – Turkey’s Erdogan

  • Erdogan: Turkey will not refrain from teaching ‘putschist Haftar’ a lesson if he continues attacks against Libya’s government, people
  • Libya plunged into turmoil after the 2011 civil war that ousted and killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi

MOSCOW/ANKARA: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyep Erdogan on Tuesday said ‘putschist Haftar’ has ‘ran away’ from Moscow after the Libya truce talks.
Turkey will not refrain from teaching ‘putschist Haftar’ a lesson if he continues attacks against Libya’s government, people Erdogan added.
Libya’s eastern strongman General Khalifa Haftar has left Moscow without signing a cease-fire agreement to end nine months of fighting in the country, the Russian foreign ministry confirmed on Tuesday.
Haftar’s decision to not sign a cease-fire agreement with Libya’s internationally recognized government shows who wants war and who wants peace in the country, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Cavusoglu said Turkey had done what it can to ensure the cease-fire, adding that if Haftar continued to act this way a Libya summit planned to be held Berlin on Sunday will have no meaning.
Haftar on Monday evening asked until Tuesday morning to look over the agreement already signed by the head of UN-recognized government Fayez Al-Sarraj, but left the Russian capital without signing, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Sarraj and Haftar met with top diplomats and military officials from Russia and Turkey for the talks that lasted about seven hours.
The negotiations were held behind closed doors, and Sarraj and Haftar didn’t meet directly. A tentative truce came into force on Sunday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Cavusoglu said that Sarraj signed the draft agreement, but that Haftar requested more time to consider it.
“They have a positive view of the document and asked for extra time until the next morning to decide,” Lavrov said of Haftar and his delegation. “I hope they will make a positive decision. Russian and Turkish representatives will continue to offer their assistance.”
The truce marks the first break in fighting in months. There were immediate reports of violations by both sides, however, raising concerns it might not hold.
The civil war had been on the brink of a major escalation. Various foreign players back Libya’s rival governments, and they have recently been stepping up their involvement in the oil-rich nation’s conflict.
Libya plunged into turmoil after the 2011 civil war that ousted and killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Russia has maintained contacts with both conflicting parties in Libya, but the government in Tripoli has recently charged that Russian military contractors were fighting alongside Haftar.
Asked Saturday about Russian private security companies in Libya, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded that “if there are Russian citizens there, they do not represent the interests of the Russian state and do not receive any money from the Russian state.”
Putin noted that mercenaries were sent to Libya from Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib alongside Turkey’s border, voicing hope that a lasting truce will help end the deployment of foreign fighters to Libya.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that his country was sending military personnel to Libya to support Sarraj’s government. Sarraj visited Istanbul for talks with Erdogan Sunday before heading to Moscow.
The negotiations follow the deals struck by Russia and Turkey to coordinate their action in Syria, where Moscow has shored up President Bashar Assad’s government and Ankara has backed his foes.
Putin discussed the situation in Libya with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Moscow on Saturday. The Russian leader welcomed Germany’s plan to hold a Libya peace summit in Berlin early this year.
In Putin’s conversations Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, they also emphasized their support of the planned summit in Berlin.
Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that preparations for a Libya conference in Berlin are “in the home stretch” after weeks of consultations.
He said the plan is for it to be held in January, but things aren’t yet so far advanced that a date can be officially announced.
Turkey’s Erdogan, speaking at a joint news conference Monday with the Italian prime minister, said he was hopeful that the Moscow meeting would form the basis for the Berlin meeting.
“My wish is for a cease-fire on a solid foundation to be the basis of peace for the future of our Libyan siblings and Libyan friends,” he said.
Seibert indicated that Sunday is one possibility for the conference. He was responding to a question about a report by CNN Turk that Erdogan would visit Germany on Sunday to attend the meeting.
Erdogan’s office later confirmed that he will visit on Sunday, but didn’t specify why.
“Such a Berlin conference could only be the start of a longer process, and it must of course ultimately be certain that Libyan interests are at the forefront,” Seibert said. “Such a Berlin conference is certainly not the end of anything.”


Hagia Sophia prayers ‘sparked Turkey’s new COVID-19 cases’

Updated 1 min 6 sec ago

Hagia Sophia prayers ‘sparked Turkey’s new COVID-19 cases’

  • Govt figures disputed by health professionals who warn that several provinces bearing brunt of pandemic

ISTANBUL: Prayers at Hagia Sophia sparked new coronavirus cases in Turkey as preventive measures were not strictly followed during the congregational worship, according to health professionals.
Around 350,000 people swarmed the Hagia Sophia on July 24 and the area around it after the Byzantine-era landmark became a mosque again after functioning for decades as a museum.
Some of the 500 guests inside the mosque, including parliamentarians and journalists, have been diagnosed with the disease. There was a lack of social distancing and mask wearing.
The number of new daily COVID-19 cases began rising and exceeding 1,000 just after the Eid Al-Adha holidays. The government’s decision to withhold figures about the number of patients in intensive care and those who are intubated has increased concern about the country’s coronavirus reality.
Health professionals contacted by Arab News said the pandemic had worsened in the last month, and that the opening of Hagia Sophia for prayers without appropriate and tough precautions in place was a reason for the surge.
“Following the opening of Hagia Sophia, we also heard of many cases among politicians,” a doctor who preferred to remain anonymous told Arab News. “But it is because they go through a regular screening every three days in order to make sure they are healthy.”
The doctor, who works in a hospital in the central Anatolian province of Sivas, added: “If ordinary citizens also get a similar test, the real case rates will be higher. If things go on like this, there will be nobody in the hospital who is not infected … There might even be a shortage of medical personnel who either resign from the job or become sick.”
A “long list” of Muslim and Christian world leaders, including Pope Francis, were invited to the inaugural prayer at the Hagia Sofia, according to Dr. Ergin Kocyildirim, who is a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon and an assistant professor in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. “It seems like none of them attended the prayer, but coronavirus did,” he told Arab News.
Kocyildirim said that a visit from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Hagia Sophia the following week made it look like social distancing rules were hard to uphold inside the landmark due to the large crowds who wanted to see the president or take pictures.
“I believe those images made many health care professionals feel upset, as a sudden step like this might ruin the months-long efforts to contain the virus. While trust takes time to be established, it can be lost quickly,” he added.
Health professionals warned that several Anatolian provinces were bearing the brunt of the pandemic with a sharp rise in local cases since the beginning of June, when anti-contagion measures were relaxed and intercity travel as well as crowded wedding ceremonies were permitted.
Government reports of daily cases have been disputed by some health professionals and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), claiming that the actual daily figure is more than 3,000. The Health Ministry has also been criticized for ignoring the filiation method as a form of contact tracing among close relatives in order to artificially decrease the number of cases and open the way for tourism and the normalization of economic activity.
“When thousands of health professionals are fighting against the disease, and when dozens of citizens lose their lives because of the pandemic, everyone and especially public authorities should have been much more responsible,” Murat Emir, a parliamentarian from the main opposition Republican People’s Party and a doctor by profession, told Arab News.
“Unfortunately, during the opening of the Hagia Sophia Mosque, thousands of citizens gathered without respecting social distancing measures and wearing face masks. Various municipalities from Anatolia organized bus tours to this opening, and nobody knows whether they got an official code from the Health Ministry for domestic travel or sat with social distancing during transit.”
Emir warned that such gatherings where social distancing measures were not applied were enough to fuel the spread of COVID-19.
To date 5,858 people have died from the virus in Turkey, according to official figures, and the country is not yet on the list of safe travel countries regularly updated by the EU.