Turkey's foreign minister recognized Libya's rebel leaders as the country's legitimate representatives and promised them an additional $200-million in aid during a visit Sunday.
The visit by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu signalled a further policy shift for Ankara. Turkey, a key regional power, had initially balked at the idea of military action in Libya, but as a NATO member is now supporting the alliance's air strikes there. Turkish companies were involved in construction projects worth billions of dollars in Libya before the February outbreak of a Libyan anti-government uprising that has evolved into a protracted armed conflict.
Mr. Davutoglu met with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the rebels' National Transitional Council, in a heavily guarded government building in the city of Benghazi, the rebel's main stronghold in eastern Libya. He later addressed a news conference with Ali al-Essawi, who serves as the rebels' foreign minister.
The Turkish visitor said his country recognizes the rebel leaders as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people. Several other countries, including France, Qatar and Italy, have previously recognized the rebels.
Mr. al-Essawi noted that “Turkey has given us political as well as financial support and humanitarian aid.”
Turkey has already granted the Libyan opposition $100-million in aid and promised an additional $200-million. Some of the money is to be used to improve the infrastructure of Benghazi and rehabilitate its airport.
Temel Kotil, chief executive officer of the Turkish Airlines, said his company would resume flights to Benghazi as soon as the security situation improves. Mahmoud Jibril, one of the rebel leaders, will pay a two-day visit to Turkey on Tuesday to discuss the promised aid in more detail.
“For us, the destiny of Libya is the same as the destiny of Turkey,” said Mr. Davutoglu. “I expressed our solidarity and commitment.”
Mr. Davutoglu's trip to Benghazi on Sunday is the most powerful signal that Turkey, which has vast trade interests in Libya, is throwing its weight behind the Libyan opposition despite its long-time relations with Col. Gadhafi.
The foreign minister said he hopes the Libya crisis can be solved peacefully this month, before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the beginning of August. The fighting has split Libya into a rebel-controlled east and a Gadhafi-run west.
“At the end of the day, there should be a political solution based on demands and aspirations of the Libyan people,” said Mr. Davutoglu. “If there is an agreement, we will do everything for the implementation of that agreement.”
Turkey has called on Col. Gadhafi to withdraw from power and pave the way for “democracy and transparency.”
On the way to the airport for his flight home, Mr. Davutoglu stopped in Benghazi's Freedom Square. He was greeted by hundreds of demonstrators, including war widows, who chanted “Gadhafi out.”
A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Col. Gadhafi's forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19, giving the rebels air support. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31. It is joined by a number of Arab allies.