In a strongly-worded statement Tuesday (May 3rd), Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi to step down right away, signalling a new shift in Ankara’s policy towards Tripoli.
“A new period started in the history of Libya. Words ran out on the Libya matter,” the leader of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said in a televised news conference in Istanbul. “At this point, what needs to be done is for Muammar Gaddafi, who is holding the government in Tripoli in Libya, to leave power immediately and to fulfil his historical and humanitarian responsibility.”
Erdogan’s statement came a day after Turkey temporarily closed its embassy in Tripoli and evacuated its personnel to Tunisia, due to security reasons, but left its consulate in rebel-controlled Benghazi open.
Earlier Monday, crowds of angry Gaddafi supporters had attacked the diplomatic missions of several NATO countries in response to the Alliance forces’ airstrike on Saturday night, in which the Libyan leader’s youngest son and three of his grandchildren were killed.
Meanwhile, Libyan government forces continued on Monday their onslaught against areas controlled by the opposition, including the port city of Misrata and the town of Zintan, killing hundreds of civilians.
The International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday that there are about 1,000 migrants and wounded civilians in Misrata that need to be evacuated.
Turkey was initially opposed to any military intervention to end the Gaddafi forces’ violent crackdown on Libyan civilians who are demanding his resignation and democratic reforms. It later changed its stance, joining NATO’s efforts to impose an arms embargo on Libya, with which Turkey has had close trade relations for years.
“Gaddafi has ignored calls for change in Libya and instead preferred blood, tears and pressure against his own people,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.
“Under current conditions, the best way is to return power to its genuine owners, the Libyan people. Libya is not the property of a single man or one family,” Turkey’s daily Hurriyet quoted him as saying.
The paper also highlighted another important point in the prime minister’s statement on Tuesday, when he defined the rebel-led Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi as Ankara’s only counterpart in Libya.
Turkey, he said, would continue to work closely with the TNC towards the realisation of the roadmap it presented in early April that should open the way for a process of democratic change in Libya.
Some media reports attributed the new policy shift to growing public pressure, in the face of continuing suffering by Libyan civilians ahead of the June 12th general elections in Turkey.