Turkish business in Libya faces security threat

Turkish companies, mainly construction firms, operating in Libya are worried after political turmoil and violence rocks the country and building sites are attacked, depots burned and equipment destroyed over the weekend. Officials from many companies say they are observing the developments closely and have already moved hundreds of workers to safer regions

Anti-regime protesters in Libya over the weekend attacked assets owned by Turkish companies operating in the country, burning warehouses, occupying facilities and stealing cars, according to data gathered by the daily Hürriyet.

Some protesters occupied nearly finished residence projects in Derne and Beyda, two cities close to the country’s Egyptian border, claiming that they were using their housing rights granted by the President Moammar Gadhafi.

The Turkish workers who were living at the construction site were evacuated and moved to safer quarters.

Turkish companies handle most of the construction projects in Benghazi and Derne, where dozens of people have been killed by the Libyan military in the recent uprising.

“Our construction equipment, depots and materials were destroyed in Derne,” Nuri Özaltın, chairman of Turkey’s Özaltın Holding, which is active in construction, energy and tourism, told daily Hürriyet.

“They burned our depot. The loss is too big,” he said. “But our 160 Turkish workers are safe. This is the most important part.”

Four automobiles owned by TML Construction, another Turkey-based firm, and goods at its building site were destroyed, said Erhan Takla, the vice chairman. “Our loss may hit $200,000,” he said. “I hope the events will calm down. It is impossible for us to do business in such an environment.”

Some 14 Turkish companies are active in Derne and Benghazi. The number of Turkish people working in the region and their family members trapped there totals more than 5,000.

Ali Davutoğlu, Turkey’s consul general to Libya, called on the Turkish workers not to resist protestors and to leave the region if possible.

Erdal Eren, chairman of Turkish Constructors Association, or TMB, confirmed that some Turkish constructors in the region had suffered damages. “We are happy that the protests did not turn on our workers.”

Eren told Hürriyet that he does not expect the turmoil in the country to last long. Turkish contractors have completed projects in Libya worth a total of $30 billion since 1973, he said.

“They have undertaken projects worth $15 billion across Libya in the last five years. These projects were gradually shifting to regions where the latest uprisings have taken place. The most prominent region was Benghazi. No [noteworthy] investments were made there until now,” he said.

Turkish companies are rather focused on safer regions, he said. “In the hot districts, building sites have been destroyed. Dormitories and vehicles were burned. Some burglary was reported, but business continues as normal for the rest of the company.”

Fettah Tamince, owner of Sembol Construction, told Hürriyet that his company was waiting to see how developments played out. “We have not had any big losses yet, but we have still paused our work due to the uprising.”

Officials from Renaissance Construction, a Turkish company based in Russia that employs 1,800 people in Libya, told Hürriyet that their business in the country was generally not located at critical points.

“We have moved our workers to safe places. They will wait there until the problems in the country are solved,” they said. The company’s total business volume in Libya is around $1.5 billion. Officials said they would take additional measures if the violence spreads.

Emin Sazak, chief executive of Yüksel Construction, also confirmed that his company had no losses yet. “We have not faced any looting or attacks. But, just to be cautious, we moved some of our workers to safer building sites.”

The company has a total business volume of $400 million in Libya.

Turkish TAV Construction, a subsidiary of Turkish airport management company TAV, is continuing its airport construction project in Tripoli with its Lebanese and Brazilian partners. TAV Construction officials told Hürriyet that they plan to finalize the project this year and the airport will have annual capacity for 20 million travelers.

Ministry holding emergency meeting

Turkish State Minister Zafer Çağlayan will hold an emergency meeting Monday with high-profile Turkish business groups and a number of companies doing business in Libya to discuss the recent uprising in the North African country.

The minister will meet with the Foreign Ministry, Turkish Exporters Association, or TİM, Turkish Contractors Association, or TMB, Turkish Construction Employers Association, or İNTEKS, Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK, and executives from Turkish companies doing business in the country.

The ministry said in a written statement Sunday that it would draw a road map regarding the unrest in the county as some sites operated by Turkish firms have been destroyed and looted since Thursday, the day the unrest began.

The evaluation meeting is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. at the Undersecretariat of Foreign Trade in Ankara. The undersecretariat has set up a Libya Watch Desk and any companies facing problems in Libya can contact the desk by calling +90 312 212 87 43 or by e-mail at libyamasasi@dtm.gov.tr.

Meanwhile, a mutual meeting with Libyan authorities scheduled for between Feb. 24 and 26 will not be postponed, the ministry said.

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