TURKEY: Erbakan's Libyan trip causes uproar at home

18 October 1996

Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan returned home from a controversial African tour on 8 October to face a storm of protest and parliamentary censure motions over statements made by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at a joint press conference in Tripoli on 6 October.

Gaddafi, with a visibly embarrassed Erbakan standing alongside him, called for the independent Kurdish state long opposed by Ankara. He also lambasted Turkey's hosting of US military bases, and military connections developed earlier in 1996 with Israel which cover air-force training and defence industry co-operation.

A joint communique patched together following thirteen hours of talks after the press conference failed to repair the damage, observers said. The Turkish ambassador to Tripoli was recalled on 7 October. Turkish press reports said the move was apparently on the instructions of Deputy Prime and Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller, who was acting in Erbakan's place but did not consult him first. The reports added that Ciller had come under pressure from the military establishment.

Parliament's two opposition left-wing groupings, the Democratic Left Party and the Republican Peoples Party, lodged censure or no-confidence motions on 9 October. It was unclear whether the main opposition Motherland Party (ANAP) also intended to press for a vote of no-confidence, however. ANAP's leader Mesut Yilmaz charged on 7 October that Erbakan deserved his treatment by Gaddafi, but Turkey did not.

Other opposition leaders called for the premier's resignation. If the speaker should approve the censure motions for parliament's agenda, the outcome could be finely balanced for the coalition government, observers say. The coalition has a paper-thin majority of 4 votes in the 550-seat house.

Erbakan's tour of Egypt, Libya and Nigeria was ostensibly intended to increase trade, in line with his policy of strengthening ties with the Islamic world while maintaining links with the West.

But the Tripoli visit was strongly opposed within Turkey, notably by the Foreign Ministry, and abroad by the US. The Abuja leg of the tour was also seen as unsuitable in many quarters, both at home and abroad, in view of the Nigerian administration's human rights record.

However, a senior prime ministry official claimed on 9 October that the Libyan visit secured a pledge from Tripoli to repay about $600 million of Libyan debts including interest and other costs to Turkish contractors (see Libya).

In Nigeria, Erbakan's mission concluded agreements for the establishment of a joint economic commission to boost trade and shipping; and to protect and encourage investments.

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