Turkey’s parliament debates sending troops to Libya

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Turkey’s parliament convened Thursday to vote on whether to send Turkish troops to Libya to help the UN-recognized government in Tripoli.

Turkish lawmakers were expected to approve a motion at their emergency session for a one-year deployment despite concerns that Turkish forces could aggravate Libya’s conflict further and destabilize the region.

The Tripoli-based government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj has faced an offensive by the rival regime in the east led by commander Gen. Khalifa Hafter. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Sarraj requested the Turkish deployment, after he and Sarraj signed a military deal that allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel to Libya. That deal, along with a separate agreement on maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, has drawn ire across the region and beyond.

Ankara says the deployment is vital for Turkey to safeguard its interests in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean, where it finds itself increasingly isolated as Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have established exclusive economic zones paving the way for oil and gas exploration.

The government has not revealed details about the possible Turkish deployment. The motion allows the government to decide on the scope, amount and timing of any mission by Turkish troops.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey would send “the necessary number (of troops) whenever there is a need.”

But he also said Turkey would not dispatch its forces if Libya’s rival government halts its offensive.

“If the other side adopts a different stance and says ‘Okay we are withdrawing, we are backing down,’ then why would we go?” he said.

Turkey’s main opposition party plans to vote against the motion, saying it would embroil Turkey in another conflict and make it a party to the further “shedding of Muslim blood.” It has urged Erdogan’s government to search for a diplomatic solution in Libya instead.

A center-right opposition party also said its legislators would not back the motion.

However, Erdogan’s ruling party is in an alliance with a nationalist party and the two hold sufficient votes for the motion to pass.

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