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Libyan sides call Boris Johnson’s bodies remark ‘unacceptable’

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Senior figures from across Libya’s political divides protested on Thursday against remarks by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about clearing dead bodies from the city of Sirte.

Johnson told members of his Conservative Party on Tuesday that British investors had a “brilliant vision” to turn Sirte, a former stronghold of Islamic State, into the next Dubai if bodies could be cleared away.

Lawmakers from Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR), who represent political and military factions based in the east of the country, called the comments unacceptable.

The HOR’s foreign affairs committee issued a statement demanding “a clarification from the British prime minister and an apology to the Libyan people”.

The head of Libya’s U.N.- and Western-backed government, which is based in Tripoli and has been spurned by the HOR, also asked for clarification during a meeting with the British ambassador in the capital.

“Some of what was said in (Johnson‘s) statement is unacceptable,” said a statement from Fayez Seraj, head of the U.N.-backed government.

Johnson’s comments led to calls for his resignation from British political opponents. He accused them of playing politics, saying on Twitter that he had been referring to the clearing of booby-trapped bodies of Islamic State militants.

Local Libyan forces backed by U.S. air strikes fought for more than six months last year to oust militants from Sirte, which Islamic State had turned into its most important base outside the Middle East.

The coastal city of about 80,000 was badly damaged during the campaign and is struggling to rebuild.

The HOR has been based in eastern Libya since 2014 when a conflict in Tripoli led to the setting up of rival parliaments and governments in the capital and the east.

Its cooperation is considered crucial for the progress of a new U.N. plan to stabilise Libya and the ending of turmoil that began after the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Andrew Heavens

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