PM Erdoğan criticizes Gaddafi, calls for swift end to operation

  • Mon Mar 21st 2011

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has criticized Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for ignoring Turkey's advice that he hand over leadership and said Western attacks on Gaddafi forces should end as soon as possible so that stability could be restored in Libya.

Erdoğan, addressing a gathering in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, appeared to agree on the necessity of foreign military intervention -- which he once fiercely opposed -- lamenting that a revolt against Gaddafi has not resulted in a peaceful transition, similar to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. “I wish the situation could have been resolved without getting to this point,” Erdoğan told the Jeddah Economic Forum on Sunday.

“We have given advice [to both Gaddafi and the rebels]. We wanted Libya to decide on its fate without bloodshed. We wish Libya had transitioned its reform process like Tunisia and Egypt did. Unfortunately, this has not happened and the situation has come to a highly undesirable point.”

The prime minister appeared to put the blame on Gaddafi for this, saying the Libyan leader ignored Turkey’s advice to listen to the demands of his people and withdraw from leadership. “We told him that he should respect the people’s will and that this [conflict] should end. Unfortunately, he brought the situation to this point,” Erdoğan said, referring to his conversation, apparently with Gaddafi, which he said took place on March 1. “Unfortunately, we could not succeed. Now, I hope the latest developments will bring a swift end to this era of brothers killing each other and the will of the Libyan people will rule Libya.”

Erdoğan earlier rejected the idea of foreign intervention in Libya and called a possible NATO role as “nonsense,” insisting that the Libyan people should decide their own future. As a way to end the crisis through change within Libya, he advised Gaddafi to appoint a political figure who has broad public support.

Asked whether Gaddafi should step down from leadership, Erdoğan said: “We have passed that point. Gaddafi is contradicting himself. He said he was not officially the leader of Libya. What is expected of a person who is not officially in charge is to hand over [the administration of] Libya to a person who has an official leadership position.”

“Of course, now we want the military intervention to end and stability to be restored as soon as possible in Libya,” the prime minister said.

“We are not pessimistic. We should never lose hope. We can stop the unending bloodshed and tears in this region. Believe me, we can do this,” he added.

Opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also endorsed strikes on Libya, saying the operation is legitimate due to a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Gaddafi forces. “Libya should become a democracy as soon as possible,” said the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, adding that he agreed with the government’s position on Libya. Joining the operation

European and US forces unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Gaddafi’s troops on Saturday following a UN resolution on Thursday authorizing the use of force on Gaddafi’s forces and a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace to protect civilians. The operation is the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Turkey, which earlier opposed foreign military intervention and insisted that transformation in Libya should be result of an internal process like in Egypt and Tunisia, called for an immediate ceasefire after the UN resolution, which is binding on all countries. But now that the Western operation has begun, it says it may consider participating in the Libya operation if circumstances require it.

In a statement released late on Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said Turkey will make the necessary and appropriate national contribution to implementing the no-fly zone over Libya and measures to protect civilians. “Within that framework the necessary preparations and studies are being made by civil and military authorities in co-ordination,” the statement added, giving no further detail.

Foreign Ministry officials declined to comment on what contributions Turkey would be willing to make. But there are speculations in the Turkish media that Turkey could provide one or two frigates to support an international naval force deployed off the Libyan coast, or it could open its airspace for aerial strikes on Libya. Officials told Today’s Zaman that it was too early to discuss what actions could be taken, emphasizing that Ankara would make its decisions based on the situation, which at the moment is still very fluid.

In an attempt to prevent foreign military action, Gaddafi declared a ceasefire after the UN resolution and invited observers from Turkey, China, Germany and Malta to monitor the ceasefire. Germany, which abstained from a vote on the UN Security Council resolution, dismissed the invitation on Saturday, saying that only the UN should carry out the task, while Turkey declined to respond publicly.

How Turkey decides to act is important especially given prospects that NATO might agree to get involved. Ankara is not against implementing a no-fly zone -- its opposition is limited to a ground operation which is not mandated by the UN resolution anyway -- and says it will not block any NATO decision to use the alliance’s assets to implement the no-fly zone decision. But it is reluctant at the moment to join any NATO operation to this end.

NATO’s top decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, was to meet later on Sunday to discuss whether the alliance will join strikes on Libya. NATO’s military planners were reportedly due to present final action plans to the North Atlantic Council at the meeting. The council should then decide whether the alliance will join the coalition operation or just provide logistical, intelligence and other support to the nations taking part in the intervention.

Turkish officials declined to comment on whether and how Turkey would join a possible NATO intervention, saying the extent of the NATO action is not yet clear. Several NATO members have indicated they would not participate in aerial attacks, pointing out that the alliance is already heavily engaged in the war in Afghanistan.

Strikes by French, US and British forces began hours after a meeting in Paris of the US, European Union and Arab League countries on Saturday. Turkey was not invited to the meeting, hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague phoned Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to discuss the meeting’s results.

Meanwhile, Davutoğlu met late on Friday with Nasser al-Mani, a member of the interim administration formed in Benghazi after the popular uprising against Gaddafi. Al-Mani, who left after his talks, said he had meetings with Turkish officials at the invitation of the Turkish government and informed them about the current situation in Libya and the ordeal faced by the Libyan people in the eastern and western regions of the country. “We saw Turkey’s will to help the Libyan people. Talks are still underway. I hope we can find a practical solution at the end of these talks and we can see positive steps for a solution to the tragedy in Libya,” he said.

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