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CAIRO/BENGHAZI, Feb.28 — Libya’s internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani said his government would stop dealing with Turkey because it was sending weapons to a rival group in Tripoli so “the Libyan people kill each other.”
Two administrations, one in the capital and Thani’s in the east, have been battling for power since the armed group Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in July and reinstated lawmakers from a previous assembly, four years after Moammar Gadhafi was ousted.
“Turkey is a state that is not dealing honestly with us. It’s exporting weapons to us so the Libyan people kill each other,” Thani told Egyptian TV channel CBC late Thursday.
A spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry strongly denied Thani’s allegations.
“Instead of repeating the same baseless and untrue allegations we advise them to support U.N. efforts for political dialogue,” spokesman Tanju Bilgic said. “Our policy vis-a-vis Libya is very clear. We are against any external intervention in Libya and we fully support the ongoing political dialogue process under U.N. mediation.”
Turkey is one of a handful of countries which has publicly received officials from the Tripoli government and parliament.
Thani’s government said this week it would exclude companies from future deals, accusing Ankara of backing the Tripoli government.
“We don’t say we are hostile to Turkey but we say we don’t deal with it,” he said.
Critics of Ankara say its Libya policy is an extension of a pro-Islamist agenda which has already seen relations sour with other former allies, notably Egypt.
Thani also accused Qatar of giving “material” support to the rival side in the Libyan conflict. He did not elaborate.
Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who merged his forces with the army in the east to fight Islamist militants, is seen as a potential rival to Thani.
While the alliance has enabled them to win back territory, Haftar has been criticized for airstrikes on civilian airports.
A spokesman for Thani’s parliament said Wednesday the assembly’s president would appoint Haftar as top army commander.
In the eastern city of Benghazi Friday, unknown gunmen shot with what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns at a protest supporting the army and Haftar. Nobody was hurt but three nearby buildings were hit, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
The protesters had demanded classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist” organization, like in Egypt. The Brotherhood has a presence in the rival parliament in Tripoli and western Libya.
Thani’s government accuses it of having ties to militant groups such as Ansar al-Shariah, blamed by Washington for an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi where the U.S. ambassador died.
The Brotherhood in Libya says it is a peaceful organization. No more details were immediately available.
Also Friday, Thani threatened new airstrikes with Egypt against ISIS in his country, warning that the jihadis were poised to widen their presence there.
He was referring to Feb. 16 airstrikes on the ISIS stronghold of Derna after the group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, mostly Egyptians.
Thani was speaking to journalists after meeting Egyptian officials to discuss the security situation in Libya, where Islamic State (IS) has recently gained a foothold among the many forces vying for control of the oil-rich North African nation.
Following this month’s airstrikes, in which Libyan forces also took part, Cairo called for international intervention against IS but that appeal was met with reticence by world powers.
But Thani Friday made it clear that his government and Egypt would act on their own if need be, and reiterated a call for his government to be supplied with arms.
“Any time there is a danger and a threat, there will be airstrikes, in complete coordination between Egypt and Libya,” he said.
Last week, Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Dairi appealed to the U.N. Security Council to lift an arms embargo on Libya to allow its military to fight jihadis.
He emphasized that he was not seeking international military intervention, but that there was no time to lose to equip the army to confront the emboldened extremists.