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Libya demands apology over Boris Johnson gaffe

Sky News logo Sky News 06/10/2017
Boris Johnson © PA Boris Johnson

Libyan MPs have demanded an apology over Boris Johnson's controversial remarks about clearing away dead bodies to create "the next Dubai".

The Foreign Secretary told a fringe event at the Conservative conference that a group of UK investors had a "brilliant vision" for the city of Sirte on Libya's coast.

To some laughter from party members, he added: "The only thing they've got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then they'll be there."

Sirte was held by Islamic State militants until last year, as civil war rages in the north African state.

Mr Johnson faced calls for his resignation over the remarks, which were also condemned by Tory colleagues.

The minister is now facing anger from both sides of Libya's internal divide.

Members of the forces loyal to Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) gather in the coastal city of Sirte, east of the capital Tripoli, during their military operation to clear the Islamic State group's (IS) jihadists from the city, on October 14, 2016 © Getty Members of the forces loyal to Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) gather in the coastal city of Sirte, east of the capital Tripoli, during their military operation to clear the Islamic State group's (IS) jihadists from the city, on October 14, 2016

Fayez Seraj, who leads Libya's Western-backed government in Tripoli, described Mr Johnson's comments as "unacceptable".

He also asked for clarification during a meeting with Britain's ambassador to Libya.

Meanwhile, members of Libya's House of Representatives, which is based in the east of the country since a 2014 split with Tripoli, also questioned the Foreign Secretary's remarks.

The eastern parliament's foreign affairs committee issued a statement demanding "a clarification from the British Prime Minister and an apology to the Libyan people".

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham stepped up the pressure on Mr Johnson, claiming he is "actively damaging" British interests and had "reached the end of the road" as Foreign Secretary.

The former Labour MP suggested this week's row could hinder the UK's co-operation with Libya over the potential trial of Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi's brother, who is alleged to have played a key role in the terror attack.

Mr Burnham said: "We are looking for co-operation from Libya and I do not think the person with responsibility for UK diplomacy can just go and shoot from the hip everywhere he goes."

Following the outrage, Mr Johnson defended his comments and claimed his critics were trying to "play politics with the appallingly dangerous reality in Sirte".

He added the clearing of the corpses of IS fighters in the city has been made "much more difficult" by booby traps and hidden explosives.

Downing Street has rebuked the Foreign Secretary, while Damian Green, Theresa May's effective deputy prime minister, told Mr Johnson he needed to "be careful" with his use of language.

The Foreign Secretary faced further potential embarrassment on Thursday when former England footballer Peter Reid suggested he made Mr Johnson "s**t himself" before a charity match in 2006.

In a new autobiography, the ex-Everton star claimed he had challenged the Tory politician over a 2004 article published by The Spectator, when Mr Johnson was the magazine's editor.

The editorial claimed drunken fans were partly responsible for the Hillsborough tragedy and accused Liverpudlians of wallowing in their "victim status".

Mr Johnson apologised at the time for the article, which he repeated when an independent report later found fans' behaviour played no part in the disaster.

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