Turkey to take over Benghazi airport
NATO member to distribute aid from rebel-held city as Erdogan suggests Ankara could mediate between rebels and Gaddafi.
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2011 15:14
Turkish navy vessels have joined NATO operations enforcing the UN's arms embargo against Libya [Reuters]

Turkey has said it will help with distributing humanitarian aid to Libya and has suggested it could play a part in mediating between rebels and the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country's prime minister, said Turkey would take over the running of Benghazi airport to take responsibility for distributing humanitarian aid from the rebel-held eastern city.

The AFP news agency also quoted an official as saying Turkey was responding to a request from fighters in Libya, saying civilian and technical personnel would be sent out.

Ankara has already sent a ferry carrying a medical team, two ambulances and two tonnes of medical supplies to Libya in an attempt to help treat wounded people.

Cemil Cicek, the deputy prime minister, said Turkey was planning to take around 450 injured people from the rebel-held port of Misurata to Turkey for treatment.

Last week, the Turkish parliament also approved the dispatch of a naval force to Libyan waters as the government moved reluctantly to join the military campaign in the north African country.

Role of mediator

Turkey, the primary Islamic voice in NATO, has previously voiced concerns over the alliance taking command of the UN-backed no-fly zone over the north African nation. It has since pledged six vessels to a patrol mission to enforce a UN arms embargo against Gaddafi's government.

In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian on Monday, Erdogan said it was "out of the question [for Turkey] to shoot at Libyan people or drop bombs on the Libyan people".

"Turkey's role will be to withdraw from Libya as soon as possible" and "restore the unity and integrity of the country based on the democratic demands of the people", he said.

The prime minister also said his country could take on the role of mediator within the framework of NATO, the Arab League and the African Union if asked by the two sides of the conflict.

"We can never ignore the democratic rights and liberties called for by the people of Libya, and change and transformation can never be delayed or postponed," he told the paper.

The Turkish leader said he had spoken to the Libyan prime minister since international air strikes began, and Turkey's foreign minister was in close touch with the opposition based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

"Gaddafi wants a ceasefire; this came up when I was talking to the prime minister, but it's important for those circumstances to mature. It wouldn't be consistent to keep shooting while demanding a ceasefire," Erdogan said.

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