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LIBYA

Libya’s rival leaders due in Paris for talks

Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj will hold talks near Paris on Tuesday with Khalifa Haftar, the powerful military commander based in the country's east, the French presidency said.

Libya's rival leaders due in Paris for talks
Self-styled Libyan National Army's chief Khalifa Haftar (L) and Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (R). Photo: AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron will host the meeting, it said in a statement on Monday.
 
“France intends, through this initiative, to facilitate a political agreement” between the two rivals as the newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Ghassam Salame, takes office, the statement said.
   
Khalifa Haftar, who controls the east of the oil-rich country, and the head of the UN-backed government Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj will hold discussions under the auspices of French President Emmanuel Macron.
 
Tuesday's talks, which were first reported by France's Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday, would be the second between Sarraj and Haftar in the space of three months after they met in Abu Dhabi in May.
   
Sarraj this month laid out a new political roadmap for his violence-wracked country, including the scheduling of presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2018.
   
Political rivalry and fighting between militias have hampered Libya's recovery from the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled and longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was killed in the aftermath.
   
Sarraj's Government of National Accord has been struggling to assert its authority since it began work in Tripoli in March 2016. Haftar's rival administration based in the remote east has refused to recognise it.
  
Western intelligence services fear that Islamic State jihadists are capitalising on the chaos to set up bases in Libya as they are chased from their former strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
   
Libya has also become the main springboard for migrants seeking to reach the EU by sailing to Italy in often flimsy and overloaded boats.
   
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Monde newspaper in June that Libya was “a priority” for the new French president and said there were “a security risk because of the trafficking of all kinds, including humans” from Libya.
 
“In consultation with all its partners, France intends to show its support for the efforts to build a political compromise, under the aegis of the United Nations, which unites… all the different Libyan actors,” Monday's statement from the Elysee Palace said.
   
“The challenge is to build a state capable of meeting the basic needs of Libyans and endowed with a regular unified army under the authority of the civil power.
 
“It is necessary for the control of Libyan territory and its borders, to fight terrorist groups and arms and migrant traffickers, but also with a view to a return to a stable institutional life.”

 

CORRUPTION

‘I’ll smash my accusers’: Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to clear his name on Thursday after being charged for financing his 2007 election campaign with money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, but admitted he was "finished" in politics.

'I'll smash my accusers': Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges
French former president Nicolas Sarkozy speaking during an interview with TF1 on March 22nd. Photo: AFP PHOTO / TF1
“It might take me one, two, 10 years but I'll smash this group (of accusers) and will restore my honour,” he said during an emotion-charged prime-time television interview on Friday evening. “I don't plan to give an inch!”
   
Having already stepped back from a front-line public role in 2016 after he failed with a bid to run again for president, Sarkozy told his interviewer on the TF1 channel that for himself “politics is finished”.
   
In an defiant half-hour performance that saw him shake with indignation at times, Sarkozy frequently referred to his accusers from Kadhafi's regime as “sinister”, “liars” and a “group of killers”.
   
“If you had told me that I would have problems because of Kadhafi, I would have said: 'What are you smoking?'” Sarkozy said at one point, claiming that investigators had not found a single piece of evidence against him.
   
The 63-year-old, who served as French leader from 2007 to 2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money on Thursday evening after two days of questioning in police custody.
 
READ ALSO:
Sarkozy charged with corruption over alleged Gaddafi financing
 
 
Under the French system, charging a suspect means that investigators believe they have strong and corroborated evidence against them, but the defendant can appeal and the case can still be dropped before a trial.
   
The allegations that Sarkozy took money from Kadhafi — whom he welcomed to Paris in 2007 but then helped to topple in 2011 — are the most serious out of several investigations that have dogged him since he left office.
   
“I am hurt deeply as a person, not for me, for my country,” Sarkozy said in his concluding remarks on the TF1 channel. “You can't drag people into the mud because some killers wanted to do it. I can't let them get away with it.”
   
Earlier in a statement released to Le Figaro newspaper, Sarkozy said he had been “living the hell of this slander since March 11, 2011,” when the first allegations against him emerged via Kadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam.
   
He went as far as to blame “the controversy launched by Kadhafi and his henchmen” for his failure to win re-election in 2012, when Francois Hollande, a Socialist, took the presidency.
 
Suitcases of cash?
 
Since 2013, investigators have been looking into claims by several figures in Kadhafi's ousted regime that Sarkozy's campaign received cash from the dictator.
   
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were preparing to drive Kadhafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that Sarkozy must “give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign”.
   
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Kadhafi loyalists who were furious over the French-led military intervention that helped end Kadhafi's 41-year rule and ultimately led to his death.
   
He has also unsuccessfully sued the investigative website Mediapart for publishing a document allegedly signed by Libya's intelligence chief showing that Kadhafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($62 million). The courts have ruled it can be used as evidence.
 
Ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy hauled in by police for grilling... once again
   
Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine also claims to have delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros ($6.15 million) to Sarkozy and his chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
   
Sarkozy lashed out at the arms broker in his television interview and in his statement, arguing his account contained inconsistencies and accusing him of having “highly suspect characteristics and a questionable past”.
   
The legal investigation is also looking into a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy's former chief of staff Claude Gueant and the 2009 sale of a luxury villa to a Libyan investment fund.
   
Le Monde newspaper further reported that other former regime officials have stepped forward alleging illicit financing.
 
First ex-president in custody
 
In 2014, Sarkozy became the first former French president to be taken into police custody, over a separate inquiry into claims he tried to interfere in another legal investigation against him.
   
But he is not the first ex-president to be charged with corruption — his predecessor Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.
   
Sarkozy is already charged in two separate cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 campaign and another for alleged influence peddling.