March 6, 2012 / 6:01 PM / 8 years ago

Turkish Airlines starts regular flights to Somalia

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Turkish Airlines started flights to Mogadishu this week, the first major international carrier to run a regular service to the Somali capital in more than two decades.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and his wife Emine Erdogan (front L) disembark their plane after arriving at Aden Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu August 19, 2011. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag flew into Mogadishu to launch the twice-weekly Turkish Airlines (THYAO.IS) service to Istanbul via Sudan’s capital Khartoum.

“Somalia was cut off but we have now connected it to the world,” he told reporters at Mogadishu’s airport on Tuesday.

“We have repaired the airport and now international flights can use it. We have discussed with the president and Turkey will also do local flights inside Somalia.”

Somalia has largely been a security vacuum since a dictator was ousted in 1991. Stability is gradually returning to the capital after Islamist rebels were forced out by African Union and government troops last year.

Until now, flights into Mogadishu have been operated by small east African operators linking the Horn of Africa nation to neighbouring countries.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited Somalia last August, the first non-African government leader to do so in nearly 20 years.

The Turks have since opened an embassy, improved the international airport, offered Somalis university places in Turkey and made plans to build a new hospital.

Erdogan’s visit reflected Turkey’s efforts to boost its profile in Africa, as it has done in the Middle East in recent years, and to promote itself as a model Muslim democracy.

Turkey is behind other emerging countries such as China, Brazil and India in the race for new markets in Africa. But under Erdogan’s AK Party government, Turkey has boosted trade with the continent and opened several new embassies, particularly in Muslim Africa.

Reporting by Feisal Omar and Ismail Taxta; Editing by David Clarke and Robert Woodward

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