Violent protests erupt at Khoms port despite GNU denying reports of Turkish naval base lease

Aug 15, 2023 | Libyan actors

On 15 August, media outlets and social media posts reported that Turkey had leased the port of Khoms for 99 years and that the Turkish Armed Forces would use it as a base in the Mediterranean. It is not entirely clear if the message was posted first by Turkish social media accounts close to the military and the armament industry, or by Libyan media. The news was picked up by several social media accounts and websites in Libya, Turkey, Russia and other countries.

The following day, the Municipality of Khoms denied that there is a lease agreement with Turkey. That evening, a major demonstration took place in Khoms against the alleged lease of the naval base. There were also chants attacking Prime Minister Abdul Hameed Dabaiba and Turkey. Well over 1,000 people participated in the demonstration. The demonstrators threatened further escalation if the plans are not abandoned. Violent riots broke out, including the torching of several vehicles (including some belonging to local militias). Several shots were also fired during the demonstration, possibly by security forces. Allegedly, a Turkish engineer was hit by gunfire and succumbed to his injuries in the morning hours. Subsequently, additional security forces were deployed from Misrata to Khoms. Later on 17 August, several people were arrested in relation to the unrest in Khoms.

Also on 17 August, Government of National Unity (GNU) spokesperson Muhammed Hamouda, in a joint appearance with Libyan Navy Chief of Staff Noureddine al-Boni in Khoms, denied that the port has been leased to a ‘foreign power’ for 99 years or is being used as a naval base. The Minister of Local Government Badr al-Toumi met several representatives of the city in Khoms at the HQ of a local militia. During this meeting, he presented a number of development and infrastructure projects for the city. Minister of Transportation Muhammed al-Shahoubi stated that it is the intention of the government to further develop the port of Khoms and maintain it commercially. Fishermen will also be able to use the port unless an alternative berth is available for them in the city.