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Turkish PM to visit Egypt, Tunisia, Libya

Turkish PM to visit Egypt, Tunisia, Libya

Turkey's prime minister will visit Egypt, Tunisia and Libya next week to vouch support for the three Arab countries where popular uprisings have ousted autocratic leaders, his office said Wednesday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's tour comes as once-strong ties between Turkey and Israel are unraveling due to Israel's refusal to apologize for its raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists last year.
The flotilla incident and Turkey's desire to broaden its influence in the Middle East and the Arab world could dramatically affect the power dynamics in the region since the revolutions now known as the Arab Spring.
A statement from Erdogan's office said the Turkish leader would discuss "opportunities for cooperation" with the countries undergoing democratic transitions, during the four-day tour that starts Sept. 12.
In Egypt, Erdogan is scheduled to oversee the signing of an agreement to establish a joint council to lead efforts toward a closer partnership as well as deals to encourage investments and trade, the statement said.
Turkey is also keen to resume investments in Libya, where Turkish contractors were involved in 214 building projects worth more than $15 billion before the rebellion that ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi. The bilateral trade with Libya was $2.4 billion in favor of Turkey before the chaos and the two countries had waived travel visas to boost that trade.
There was no word however, on plans for Erdogan to cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Erdogan said Wednesday that talks were underway with Egyptian authorities over his intentions to visit Gaza _ where he enjoys strong popularity.
The flotilla raid, which left dead eight Turks and one Turkish-American, infuriated Erdogan's government. Its relations with Israel nose-dived last week after the release of a U.N. report on the incident.
The report said Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was a "legitimate security measure," but also called the raid on the flotilla that tried to break the blockade "excessive and unreasonable."
Turkey has since expelled top Israeli diplomats, cut military ties with the country, pledged to lobby other nations in support of the Palestinians' statehood bid and promised increased Turkish naval patrols in the Mediterranean.
Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives aboard the flotilla, but it has refused to apologize, saying its forces acted in self-defense.