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Turkey's Erdogan makes surprise Christmas Day visit to Tunisia for talks with president

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a surprise visit to Tunisia [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 December, 2019

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a surprise visit to Tunisia to meet with his counterpart Kais Saied amid tensions over Ankara's maritime jurisdiction agreement with Libya.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed in Tunisia on Wednesday on a surprise visit for talks with his recently elected Tunisian counterpart, Reuters reported. 

Erdogan's Christmas Day visit comes as Mediterranean countries stand divided on Turkey's controversial maritime delimitation deal with Tunisia's neighbour Libya, which expanded Turkey's claims over a large gas-rich area.

Turkey has been sharply criticised over the November military deal with Libya's internationally recognised government, namely by Greece, which says the maritime agreement does not take into account the island of Crete.

President Erdogan's meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied, the first by a head of state since he was elected in the autumn, could be an attempt to drum up support from other countries in the region. 

Erdogan was accompanied by his foreign and defence ministers, and his intelligence chief, a statement by his office said. 

There have been unconfirmed rumours on social media that an airplane belonging to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar also landed in Tunisia on Wednesday.

Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited eastern Libya's Benghazi on Sunday, meeting representatives of strongman Khalifa Haftar's administration amid tensions with Turkey

Turkey supports Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli in the struggle against eastern Libyan strongman Haftar.

General Haftar is backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, countries with whom Turkey has tense or limited relations.

President Erdogan on Sunday vowed Turkey would increase military support to Libya if necessary, and evaluate all options.

His comments come a day after the Turkish parliament ratified a security and military cooperation deal signed between Ankara and Tripoli last month.

"We will evaluate all kinds of military support including ground, marine and air options if necessary," Erdogan said during a speech in the northwestern province of Kocaeli.

 

Although Erdogan has said Turkey is willing to send troops to Libya, the government must seek a separate mandate from the Turkish parliament to send forces to fight there.

Forces loyal to Haftar said on Saturday they had seized a Turkish ship to search its cargo, but Ankara has made no official comment on the claim. 

Read more: Turkish-Libyan alliance in eastern Mediterranean: A game changer?

Libya has been in turmoil since a civil war in 2011 toppled Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. In the chaos that followed, the country was divided, with a weak UN-supported administration in Tripoli overseeing the country's west and a rival government in the east aligned General Haftar's Libyan National Army.

Each side is supported by an array of militias and foreign governments. Since April, forces loyal to eastern-based Haftar have been fighting to seize the capital Tripoli.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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