UK foreign minister says Sirte will be holiday destination after it 'clears the dead bodies'

UK foreign minister says Sirte will be holiday destination after it 'clears the dead bodies'
Gaffe-prone UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson shocked a Conservative Party conference after saying British investors were looking to make Libya's Sirte a holiday hot-spot once 'the dead are cleared' away.
3 min read
04 Oct, 2017
Boris Johnson visited Libya last month [AFP]
Calls have been made for UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson to be sacked after he made a tasteless joke about the victims of the Libyan government's campaign to capture Islamic State group stronghold last year. 

The gaffe-prone politician told a Conservative Party conference on Tuesday evening that Sirte - on Libya's coast - could become a holiday hotspot once they "clear the dead bodies away".

British businesses are looking to transform the bombed-out, former IS-held Sirte into "a new Dubai" he said.

"There's a group of UK business people, wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte, on the coast - near where Gaddafi was actually captured and executed as some of you may have seen," he told the audience

"They literally have a brilliant vision to turn Sirte - with the help of the municipality of Sirte - to turn it into the next Dubai. The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then they'll be there."

The comment has shocked many who see it as an insult to the hundreds of civilians who died when the UN-backed government forces recaptured the city last December.

The bloody assault saw IS and government forces engaged house-to-house fighting for weeks, while the militants used civilians as human shields as air strikes and shelling pounded the city.

Once a stronghold of former leader Muammar Gadaffi, the Sirte battle has been one of the bloodiest in the six-years of violence that has plagued the country.

Johnson's comments were not helped by the UK's own role in supporting rebels with air strikes during the overthrew of the former Libyan dictator in 2011.

His remarks on the dead were met with laughter - and some shock - from the audience. Outside the Conservative Party conference condemnation was stronger.

"It is less than a year since Sirte was finally captured from Daesh [IS] by the Libyan Government of National Accord, a battle in which hundreds of government soldiers were killed and thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire," said the Labour Party's Shadow Defence Minister Emily Thornberry, according to the Guardian newspaper.

"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."

Guardian journalist Rowena Mason was one of the first people to pick up on the gaffe, which has become headline news in the UK.
Carl Bildt, co-chair for the European Council on Foreign Relations, mocked the UK minister in a tweet.
Journalist Dan Bloom suggested this was one gaffe too far for Boris.
Writer and pundit Owen Jones pointed out that a number of Tory attendees laughed at the joke.