Libya pledges fast payment of Turkish construction bills

Libya pledges fast payment of Turkish construction bills

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and his Libyan counterpart Ali Zeidan review a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara February 20, 2013. (Photo: Reuters, Ümit Bektaş)

February 20, 2013, Wednesday/ 17:00:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has pledged to take concrete steps to pay off a $20 billion Libyan construction debt to Turkish companies, saying during a joint meeting with Turkish officials on Tuesday that his government was willing to “immediately pay” 50 percent of the debts it owed to Turkish firms.

In a bilateral meeting on Wednesday, the prime ministers of Turkey and Libya have discussed the possible return of Turkish companies to complete construction projects in Libya as well as outstanding payments and compensation for losses incurred by the firms forced to suspend operations.

Turkish contractors were involved in hundreds of building projects worth more billions of dollars before the uprising two years ago which toppled Moammar Gadhafi's regime. Turkish companies swiftly evacuated some 25,000 workers during the chaos.

Libyan Prime Minister Zeidan said his government was ready to immediately pay 50 percent of outstanding payments to Turkish contractors and address the rest of payments in two installments as projects advance.

Speaking at a joint press conference late on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Libyan counterpart Zeidan expressed determination to further improve trade ties between two countries.

"Libya moves on confidently towards a constitutional democracy. The will of the Libyan people will be the beginning of a new term in northern Africa," Erdoğan stressed.

"I would like to express that we will be on the side of our Libyan brethren will all our means in the future," Erdoğan said.

"Turkey is a very valuable country for us. Our two countries share a common religion and history of 500 years," Zeidan stressed at the press conference.

"This visit will boost already brotherly relations between Turkey and Libya. Turkey supported the Libyan revolution since the beginning and was on the side of the Libyan people against dictatorship," Zeidan emphasized.

"We discussed engaging in more cooperation with Turkish companies and Turkish banks," Zeidan noted.

"We shared the same views on many issues. We would like to take steps similar to those of Turkey," Zeidan also said.

Zeidan earlier in the day said his government will take concrete steps to pay its debt to Turkish companies.

The comments, carried by the Anatolia news agency, came as the Libyan prime minister also called for a new building boom to begin in post-revolution Libya, adding that he wants Turkish firms to play a leading role in the project. The only problem with that call is that Turkish builders have increasingly voiced worries over starting new contracts for the already debt-ridden Libyan government.

Zeidan said the payments would help resolve those worries and that the rest of the country's building debt would have to be paid at a later date. “Some Turkish firms suffered because of the war, and of course we want to pay any damages. However, Libya has just gone through a period of devastating war,” he said. “We're very serious on the debt subject; we know what the problem is and are going to take it up seriously.

He added that remaining payments “will be made to companies after they begin or resume work.” Zeidan was keen to remind the press that his government was formed just three months ago and is struggling to rebuild the country's infrastructure after a bloody civil war to topple former strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Almost all outstanding construction debts are left over from Gaddafi's government, which contracted Turkish builders for about $28 billion in projects.

Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who also spoke at the press conference, stated he had faith that the debts would be paid and said he expected $5 billion in Turkish-Libyan trade in 2013. “In the coming years, the number could be brought to as high as $10 billion,” he added. The minister also pledged that Turkish businesses will also “be at Libya's side” to help the country diversify from an oil-export-based economy in the coming decades.

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