Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, center, his wife, Sare, second right, and his son, Balkan Davutoglu, 5, left, are seen Sunday upon their arrival to rebel-held Benghazi, Libya.AP PHOTO
BENGHAZI, Libya — 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 marked Turkey’s strongest show of support yet for the opposition forces trying to out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Turkey, a regional power, initially balked at the idea of military action in Libya and Turkish companies were involved in Libyan construction projects worth billions of dollars before the outbreak of an anti-Gadhafi uprising in February.
The revolt has turned into a protracted, largely deadlocked armed conflict, in which the rebels control Libya’s eastern third, while Gadhafi clings to power in the west, but has been unable to crush pockets of resistance there. As a NATO member, Turkey is now supporting the alliance’s airstrikes against targets linked to the Gadhafi regime.
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.
Later Sunday, a rebel spokesman played down media reports quoting Abdul-Jalil as saying Gadhafi has the option to remain in Libya, provided he resigns and orders a cease-fire. Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga suggested the rebel chief was expressing a personal view.
“Let Gadhafi show us one place in Libya where he hasn’t harmed, tortured or killed people and he could stay there, but this place doesn’t exist,” said Ghoga.
The Turkish visitor, meanwhile, 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.