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LIBYA

Musicians flee Libya for ‘right to rap’

A group of rappers who say they had to flee Libya for their art were on their way to Italy on Wednesday after being rescued by a charity boat.

Musicians flee Libya for 'right to rap'
Libyan migrants sleeping aboard the Aquarius. Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

The self-described musicians were among a group of 17 mostly Libyan men picked up by the Aquarius, a vessel operated by French NGO SOS Mediterranee and international humanitarian organisation Doctors without Borders (MSF), from a fishing boat in distress in waters off the Libyan coast.

“I'm (a) rapper, I do rap music, so I got to get out of Libya,” one of the men, Youssef, told AFP.

“I have to get out of Libya for freedom of speech, you know about that. Libya is a dangerous zone right now for arts…”

Youssef, from the country's second city Benghazi, said he had paid a trafficker he met in a coffee shop in the capital Tripoli to get on the boat.

“So I was talking and someone after I finished talking got me to the side and said 'If you are looking for a trip I can get you one, but it will be expensive'.

“I asked him how much expensive and he said 'like 1,500 (dollars)'. I said I can pay 1,000, you know, stuff like this. So he got my number and he said I will see and come back to you. The next day he called me and said: 'All right someone will come and pick the money up'.”

MSF volunteer Seraina Eldada said the rescued men had been severely dehydrated and exhausted when the Aquarius reached their stricken boat.

“They were very weak, some of them barely conscious,” she said. “But they are all getting stronger now and starting to recover, drinking water.

“Right now we are just trying to figure out what their stories are.”

The rescued men were to be taken to an Italian port although first the Aquarius was taking part in another rescue operation, this time for a fishing boat reported to have some 300 people on board.

More than 95,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean and taken to Italy since the start of the year, just over a third of them on privately-funded NGO boats.

The organisations say they are saving lives but their operations have been criticised for allegedly encouraging migrants to risk a journey that has claimed at least 2,385 lives so far in 2017.

By Giovanni Grezzi

IMMIGRATION

Libya conference to be held in Sicily in November: Italy

A Libya conference will be held in Sicily in November, Italy's foreign minister said Tuesday, with talks focusing on an "inclusive approach" to stabilising the war-torn north African country while not fixating on a date for elections.

Libya conference to be held in Sicily in November: Italy
The coastline of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The peace conference in Palermo on November 12 and 13 will aim to “identify the stages of a stabilisation process”, Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi told the Senate.

The meeting would drive towards “a common solution, even if there are differences of opinion between the parties involved”, he said.

Four key leaders from Libya agreed at a conference in Paris in May to hold landmark polls on December 10 as part of a French-led plan to stabilise the crisis-hit country despite ongoing violence and deep divisions.

France, however, has faced opposition to the election timetable from the United States along with other European Union countries, notably Italy.

Milanesi said he had received “confirmation of interest” in the conference from Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar as well as support from the US, and was planning on discussing the dossier with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Monday.

“No deadlines will be imposed on the Libyans, nor tasks dictated,” Milanesi said.

Italy, a key supporter of the UN-backed government of Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli, said in September it wants to “maintain an active dialogue” with all well-intentioned actors in Libya.

The Libyan capital has been at the centre of a battle for influence between armed groups since dictator Moamer Kadhafi was driven from power and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

Sarraj's Government of National Accord has been unable to form a functioning army or regular security forces and has been forced to rely on militias to keep Tripoli safe.

Militias formed the backbone of the uprising that toppled Kadhafi.

Since then rival administrations, including one allied with Haftar and based in the remote east, and the militias have competed for authority and oil wealth in the North African country.

Accused by his opponents of wanting to establish a new military dictatorship, Haftar refuses to recognise the authority of Sarraj's Tripoli-based GNA.

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