Boris slammed for insensitive comments on Libya

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire for saying Libya could become a magnet for tourists and investors - if it can "clear the dead bodies away" first.
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire for saying Libya could become a magnet for tourists and investors - if it can "clear the dead bodies away" first.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANCHESTER • British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire for saying Libya could become a magnet for tourists and investors - if it can "clear the dead bodies away" first.

Reflecting on his August visit to Libya, strife-torn since the toppling of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Mr Johnson said on Tuesday that British businesses wanted to invest in the city of Sirte.

"They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai," he said at the Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester, talking up its "bone-white sands" and "brilliant young people".

"The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away," he added, before laughing.

His comments on Sirte, from where Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants were driven out in December, were slammed by opposition Labour MP Emily Thornberry. "For Boris Johnson to treat those deaths as a joke - a mere inconvenience before UK business people can turn the city into a beach resort - is unbelievably crass, callous and cruel," she said.

Another MP, Ms Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats, said Mr Johnson lacked the diplomatic skills necessary for his role and called on Prime Minister Theresa May to fire him.

Mr Johnson later turned to Twitter to defend his comments, accusing people "with no knowledge or understanding of Libya" of wanting to "play politics with the appallingly dangerous reality in Sirte".

"The reality there is that the clearing of corpses of (ISIS) fighters has been made much more difficult by IEDs and booby traps.

"That's why Britain is playing a key role in reconstruction and why I have visited Libya twice this year in support," he tweeted.

Tory minister Damian Green said that "lessons needed to be learned" from Mr Johnson's comments.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Boris slammed for insensitive comments on Libya'. Print Edition | Subscribe