October 21, 2014 / 8:56 PM / in 3 years

Rival Libyan PM meets Turkish envoy in first known meeting with foreign visitor

CAIRO/TUNIS (Reuters) - Libya’s self-declared prime minister, who runs a rival government not recognized by the international community, met a Turkish envoy on Tuesday, in the first publicly known diplomatic meeting with a foreign representative.

Omar al-Hasi speaks to the crowd during a rally supporting "Fajr Libya" (Operation Dawn), a group of forces mainly from Misrata, at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli September 19, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Libya has had two governments and parliaments competing for legitimacy since an armed group seized Tripoli in August. Omar al-Hasi, an Islamist, set up his own cabinet in the capital and forced the internationally recognized prime minister, Abdullah Thinni, to move to the east of the country

Western powers and Libya’s neighbors worry the conflict will turn the North African country into a failed state or even spark civil war as former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 now fight for control.

Hasi met Turkey’s special envoy for Libya, Emrullah Isler, in Tripoli, Hasi’s government said on its website. It showed a picture of the meeting in the prime minister’s office, which had been previously used by Thinni.

The United Nations and Western powers have tried to bring both sides to the negotiating table to end the country’s chaos but have avoided recognizing or dealing publicly with Hasi, who was elected by the rival assembly in Tripoli.

Several high-profile foreign officials, among them U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, visited Tripoli and Tobruk this month but none it publicly know to have met Hasi.

Western and Arab countries withdrew their diplomatic personnel when fighting between the Misrata-led forces and a rival group from Zintan escalated in summer.

Isler had previously visited Tobruk, a town in Libya’s far east where the elected parliament allied to Thinni has moved.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment. Turkey is one of Libya’s biggest business partners, with Turkish firms using much Misrata sea port, the country’s biggest.

Turkish Airlines has decided to resume flights to Misrata, the Libya Herald reported this week, in what would be the first return of a major carrier since Tripoli’s main airport was badly damaged during fighting in summer.

Last month, the United Nations started a dialogue between the elected parliament based in Tobruk and lawmakers from Misrata who have boycotted the sessions.

The talks have not taken in armed factions from Misrata but diplomats hope that since Misrata members from the house are indirectly linked to the rival parliament, the talks will start a broader political dialogue.

Libya’s weak central government and fledging national army have been no match for the well-armed factions, who both claim legitimacy for their role in the NATO-backed civil war that ended the late Gaddafi’s dictatorship.

The situation in Tripoli has been worsened by a separate battle in the main eastern city of Benghazi where pro-government forces are battling Islamist armed groups.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, Ulf Laessing, Feras Bosalum and Johnny Hogg; Editing by Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis

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