February 24, 2015 / 11:37 AM / 4 years ago

Turkey says official Libyan gov't targeting its companies there

ANKARA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Turkey accused Libya on Tuesday of targeting its companies there after the internationally recognised government said it would cancel contracts of Turkish businesses operating in the troubled north African state.

Libya’s beleaguered official government, which only controls eastern parts of the country, announced a ban on Turkish firms after accusing Ankara of supporting the rival administration that seized control of the capital Tripoli last summer.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman on Tuesday rejected the official government’s decision and appeared to question the legitimacy of its leader, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.

“The decision to bar Turkish companies ... carries no value, considering the political and security crisis Libya has been going through and the debate regarding legitimacy,” Tanju Bilgic said in an emailed statement.

“The transitional government which is expected to make efforts for peace and stability in Libya has, on the contrary, targeted our companies, which work for the development of Libya.”

Turkey has close historic ties with Libya and Turkish businesses have traditionally had a strong presence there. But the country has been riven with conflicts since the toppling of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The Turkey Contractors’ Association said last year that $19 billion of construction projects alone have been mothballed by Turkish firms in Libya because of fighting between rival factions.

Turkey’s special envoy to Syria last year became the first foreign diplomat to meet publicly with the Tripoli government, which is partly supported by Islamist groups.

That move deepened suspicions among its critics that Ankara is pursuing a pro-Islamist agenda that has already soured ties with former allies, notably Egypt.

Major world powers have boycotted the Tripoli government, but the United Nations has included lawmakers from the rival parliament in a dialogue aimed at defusing the power struggle.

Ankara has denied siding with the Tripoli government, saying it supports U.N. efforts to broker peace and calling for more inclusive talks to end the bloodshed.

Any ban of Turkish companies would be limited to the eastern rump state where Thinni’s forces are in control.

Libya’s official government banned Palestinians, Syrians and Sudanese from entry in January, saying their countries were undermining Libya’s security. (Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonny Hogg and Tom Heneghan)

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