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Italy’s premier visits Libya for talks on energy, migration

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CAIRO (AP) – Italy’s prime minister arrived in Libya on Saturday to speak with officials from the country’s western-based government, who will focus on energy and migration, the most important issues for Italy and the European Union.

Libya is the third North African country Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has visited in the past two weeks to secure new supplies of natural gas to replace Russian energy amid Moscow’s war with Ukraine. Before that she visited Tunisia and Algeria.

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Meloni landed in Libya’s capital Tripoli under tight security and accompanied by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, her office said. She will hold talks with Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, head of one of Libya’s rival governments, and Mohamed Younis Menfi, head of Libya’s ceremonial Presidential Council.

Meloni was greeted at the airport by Najla Mangoush, the foreign minister of the Tripoli government. She received a bouquet of flowers, shook hands with a child.

During her visit, Italy’s state-owned energy company Eni is set to sign an $8 billion deal to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields to produce 850 million cubic feet a day, Farhat Bengdara, head of Libya’s National Oil Corporation, told a local TV channel Start this week.

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Eni declined to comment on his remarks. The Italian company continues to operate in Libya despite ongoing security problems, producing gas mainly for the Libyan domestic market.

Meloni, who has been in office for just three months, is the top European official to land in oil-rich Libya since the country failed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021.

That failure prompted Libya’s eastern-based parliament to appoint a rival government after Dbeibah refused to step down.

Libya has been ruled by rival governments — one in the east of the country and the other in Tripoli in the west — for most of the past decade after it plunged into a civil war in the wake of a NATO-backed insurgency in 2011 that left people toppled and killed later the longtime autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

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Piantedose’s presence during the visit signals that migration is a key concern of Meloni’s journey. The interior minister has spearheaded the government’s crackdown on charity lifeboats operating off Libya, first denying access to ports and more recently reassigning ports in northern Italy, requiring days of navigation.

The North African nation has also become a hub for migrants from Africa and the Middle East wishing to travel to Europe, with Italy receiving tens of thousands each year.

Successive Italian governments and the European Union have backed the Libyan Coast Guard and militias loyal to Tripoli in hopes of curbing such dangerous sea crossings.

But the United Nations and human rights groups say these European policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or imprisoned in squalid detention centers riddled with abuse.

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