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POLITICS

Libyan strongman Haftar makes surprise visit to Italy

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who has launched a military offensive against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, held surprise talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome on Thursday, officials said.

Libyan strongman Haftar makes surprise visit to Italy
talian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) escorts self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) Chief of Staff, Khalifa Hafta on a previous visit to Italy. Photo: AFP

Conte said he urged Haftar halt his attack on the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who also travelled to Rome and Paris for talks last week.

“It was a fairly long meeting, a lengthy exchange of information,” Conte told journalists. “I informed him of the government's position. We want a ceasefire and we feel that the political path is the only solution.”

Conte said last week that he wanted to meet Haftar after his talks with Sarraj.

The Libyan military chief, whose forces control large swathes of the country's east, will travel next week to Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron, his office said.

Haftar at a conference held in Plaermo, Italy, aimed at solving the Libyan crisis last year. Photo: AFP

“The goal will be to discuss the situation in Libya and the conditions for resuming a political dialogue… in conjunction with the UN and our partners,” an Elysee Palace official said.

France and Italy are the two lead European powers seeking to find a solution to years of instability, spreading Islamic extremism and a migrant crisis in Libya which fell into chaos after the NATO-backed toppling of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

But the neighbours are seen by experts as also competing for influence and the issue has caused tensions between the governments.

READ ALSO: France 'partly to blame' for Libya crisis, says Italian defence minister

Sarraj, who is seen as being close to Rome, has accused France of supporting “dictator” Haftar's campaign against his internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Paris has rejected the claims, saying it supports Sarraj but also considers Haftar a key player in rebuilding Libya after years of strife.

Haftar's bid to unseat Sarraj and take control of the Libyan capital has reached a military and political impasse after more than a month of fighting.

After an initial advance, forces loyal to the GNA launched a counter-offensive that has led to a stalemate on the ground.

The fighting has killed at least 430 people and wounded over 2,000 while displacing 55,000 others, according to UN estimates.

The European Union on Monday called for all sides in the conflict to put down their arms and commit to UN talks, saying the offensive was a threat to international peace.

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POLITICS

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass
immigration.

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.

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