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Turkey reluctantly joins NATO operations against Libya

Turkey says its demands have been met concerning international military intervention in Libya, meaning that NATO can now take charge of the operation. The Muslim government approved the move but only if certain conditions were met.


Click here to see Thursday's live blog of events in Libya.

AFP – Turkey's parliament Thursday approved sending a naval force off Libya as the Islamist-rooted government moved reluctantly to join military action in the conflict-torn country despite anger at Western-led air raids.

Following harsh criticism of the strikes, the government asked parliament to approve the dispatch of military forces, pledging a submarine, four frigates and an auxiliary ship to a NATO patrol mission to enforce a UN arms embargo against Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

It obtained a one-year authorisation for deployment as part of "multi-dimensional contributions to international efforts aimed at restoring stability and security in Libya", according to the motion parliament approved.

The vote was held in a closed session by a show of hands, with some opposition deputies also lending support to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), parliamentary sources said.

Analysts however said the government, influenced by Islamist sympathies, fell out of pace with NATO allies while resisting military action against Libya even though its participation was "inevitable".

"Turkey was confused and was late... Joining the game was inevitable. It could not have stood against its NATO allies," foreign policy commentator Semih Idiz said.

Turkey, NATO's sole predominantly Muslim member and a key regional player, has slammed the air strikes, led by France, Britain and the United States, ruling out any combat mission and vowing to "never point a gun at the Libyan people".

But with the approval of the naval mission "Turkey will have effectively joined the military operation: if the soldiers are fired on, they will respond", Idiz said.

Turkey's navy chief said two Turkish vessels were already at sea in the Mediterranean and the remaining four others had left their ports Wednesday, heading to the zone of operation.

Late Thursday Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said after a conference call with his US, British and French counterparts that NATO would take over command of the international coalition's operations in Libya.

 "The coalition formed after a meeting in Paris is going to give up its mission as soon as possible and hand over the entire operation to NATO with its single command structure," Davutoglu said, according to the Anatolia news agency, in responding to journalists in Ankara.

"In effect, Turkey's demands and concerns have been met," he added.

Shortly before the parliament vote, NATO's top operational commander, US Admiral James Stavridis, met behind closed doors with Turkey's army chief following talks with the foreign minister late Wednesday.

France's leadership in the air strikes and its failure to invite Turkey to Saturday's summit in Paris that preceded the raids has irked Ankara, adding chill to bilateral ties, already strained over President Nicolas Sarkozy's vocal opposition to Turkey's EU membership bid.

Under the AKP, Turkey has sought a leadership role in the Muslim world, championing particularly the Palestinian cause and harshly criticising Israel.

Erdogan has slammed the strikes, arguing that, "we have seen in the past that such operations are of no use and that on the contrary, they increase the loss of life, transform into occupation and seriously harm the countries' unity".

"The operation against Libya is confusing the minds and unfortunately you hear extremely unappropriate descriptions such as "a crusade" that raise doubts," he said Thursday.

President Abdullah Gul grumbled that "some who until yesterday were closest to the dictators and sought to take advantage of them... display an excessive behaviour today and raise suspicions of ulterior motives".

Pointing to the AKP's quest for a third straight term in power in elections in June, Idiz warned against inflammatory rhetoric.

Erdogan "should be careful", he said. "The average Turk sees the intervention in Libya as a new attack by Westerners against a Muslim country, similar to those in Afghanistan and Iraq."

In the earlier stages of the turmoil, Ankara made silent efforts to persuade Kadhafi to cede power, hoping for a less turbulent outcome like in Tunisia and Egypt.

"Ankara mishandled the crisis and its policies were contradictory: it opposed foreign intervention but now it is sending a naval force... It has finally accepted the rules of the game," said Cengiz Aktar, an international relations expert.

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