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Libya's prime minister lands in Europe for 'anti-Haftar tour'

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Libya's Fayez al-Sarraj met in Italy [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 7 May, 2019

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In a slip of the tongue, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he had spoken "with president Haftar," rather than president Sarraj.

The Italian Prime Minister warned Tuesday against possible military action in Libya, as the head of Tripoli's internationally recognised government kicked off a European tour to drum up support against the assault by strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The contents of a meeting between Giuseppe Conte and Fayez al-Sarraj - which Italian media said lasted about 90 minutes - were not made public.

But Conte said on the sidelines of a separate event that "there is no military solution that could guarantee the stabilisation of the country".

"The military solution would, in any case, come at the cost of human lives and humanitarian crises," Conte said.

Sarraj, who heads the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, is seeking support against an attack on Tripoli by Haftar, who launched an assault on Tripoli on April 4.

After his meeting with Conte, Sarraj was set to travel to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Tuesday and then to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday.

The visit to France, in particular, comes after the GNA repeatedly accused Paris of politically backing Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

In his harshest criticism of French diplomacy, Sarraj, speaking to French daily Liberation, denounced Paris for backing a "dictator".

The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are seen as key supporters of Haftar, praising his battlefield successes against the Islamic State group and other extremists in Libya.

Italy, Libya's former colonial power, is a key backer of the GNA and has echoed calls by Merkel for a "unified" European position and a political solution to resolve the crisis.

In a slip of the tongue, Conte said he had spoken "with president Haftar," but immediately corrected himself to say: "I've spoken with president Sarraj. I am confident I will be able to meet General Haftar soon. We are seeking to establish how and when."

Comment: Has Haftar killed the political process in Libya?

Sarraj may also possibly travel to London as part of his tour.

Britain has pushed for a resolution at the UN Security Council demanding a ceasefire in Libya but its efforts have foundered amid divisions at the world body.

Ahead of Sarraj's tour, Haftar urged his troops to "wipe out the enemy", in a message read out by LNA spokesman General Ahmad al-Mesmari late on Sunday, echoing similar comments made by Gaddafi during a pro-democracy uprising in 2011.

Fighting between rival militia groups in the capital has claimed 264 lives and left more than 1,200 wounded.

Fighting in Tripoli's southern suburbs has so far displaced at least 35,000 people, UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya said Monday.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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