Libya’s self-styled commander Khalifa Haftar has called on people to take up arms to fight Turkish troops, who are to be sent to the country as part of a security deal with the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli.
In a televised speech on Friday, Khalifa announced a “call to arms and mass mobilization … to defend our land and our honor.”
Khalifa Haftar urged “all Libyans” to bear arms, “men and women, soldiers and civilians.”
His eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, France, Russia and Turkey, launched an offensive in April to wrest control of Tripoli from the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
The offensive has so far killed at least 200 civilians and displaced some 146,000 people, according to United Nations figures.
Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) has sought Turkey’s support to fight against Haftar’s forces, which control the east and swept through southern Libya early last year.
Back in November, he signed a military cooperation deal with Turkish President, Recept Tayyip Erdogan, under which Ankara agreed to send troops to support GNA forces fighting against Haftar rebel forces based in eastern Libya.
Erdogan has already said that he would consider military deployment to Libya only at the request of Serraj’s government.
He accused Ankara of wanting to “regain control of Libya,” saying the country is now “facing a colonizer.”
The size and nature of Turkey’s deployment was unclear. Ankara has already supplied armored vehicles to the GNA.
Turkey’s parliament also voted on Thursday to allow troops to be sent to the North African country.
People took to the streets in some cities in eastern Libya against what they described as Turkish “invasion” of Libya.
There were reports of rocket fire and shelling in the capital on Friday, which caused the suspension of flights at the only functioning airport in Tripoli, according to airport and airline officials.
The airport has been repeatedly closed and reopened in recent years because of risks from shelling and air strikes.
African Union chief warns against Turkish ‘interference’
In a related development, the chief of the African Union (AU) described the potential deployment of Turkish troops to Libya as “military interference.”
Moussa Faki said in a statement late Friday that he was “deeply concerned at the deterioration of the situation in Libya and the continuing suffering of the Libyan people.”
He warned that the move had “dangerous consequences” for the continent as a whole.
“The various threats of political and military interference in the internal affairs of the country increase the risk of a confrontation, whose motives have nothing to do with the fundamental interests of the Libyan people and their aspirations for freedom, peace, democracy and development,” he added.
The oil-rich county has been plunged into chaos since 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and his execution by unruly fighters.