Turkish delegation storms out of tense Libya conference

Tension was high at a conference held in Italy where rival leaders from war-torn Libya have been brought together for the first time in five months, and Turkish delegates left early complaining they had been excluded.

 The conference in Palermo brought together Fayez al-Serraj, Prime Minister of the internationally recognised Libyan government based in the west of the country, and Khalifa Haftar, the strongman who dominates the country’s east.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame said the conference was progress towards achieving the United Nations’ goal of holding elections in the country in 2019.

Libya has been in conflict for seven years, since dictator Muammar Gadaffi was overthrown in a Western-backed uprising, and violence spiked last week after a plan to hold an election in December fell through, Reuters reported.

The conference was attended by international leaders and dignitaries including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, European Union Council President Donald Tusk, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. With such a diverse range of leaders and priorities at the conference, the atmosphere was, according to Reuters report, tense.

The Turkish delegation stormed out early, complaining of being excluded from a meeting. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay echoed their statement, expressing his “deep disappointment” at being excluded. “Any meeting which excludes Turkey would prove to be counter-productive for the solution of this problem,” Reuters quoted Oktay as saying.

Conte, however, said the Turks had left the conference due to unspecified “regional sensitivities.”

Among the leaders attending the meeting, Haftar’s ally Sisi is considered a problematic case for Turkey, who were strong backers of Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president he overthrew to seize power in Egypt.

With Sisi’s backing, Haftar defeated Islamist factions to gain dominance over the east of Libya, and his faction has become the most powerful military group in the country.

Despite the tension and lack of a major diplomatic breakthrough, both Libyan leaders have expressed a willingness to go along with the U.N. plan for elections.