MANCHESTER, England (AP) — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced calls to resign Wednesday after saying that a violence-torn Libyan city could become a tourism hub once authorities “clear the dead bodies away.”
Johnson made the remark in a side meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, northwest England.
Discussing progress in stabilizing and rebuilding Libya after years of conflict, Johnson said British investors had a vision to turn the beachside city of Sirte into “the next Dubai.”
“The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away,” he said.
Backbench Conservative lawmaker Heidi Allen tweeted that Johnson “must be sacked for this,” while fellow Tory legislator Sarah Wollaston said she was “appalled.”
Cabinet colleague Damian Green said the comments were unacceptable, telling Sky News that “everyone, including Boris, needs to be careful in their use of language.”
The voluble Johnson, 53, has earned a reputation for gaffes — and a Teflon-like ability to survive them — during a long political career.
He once used the derogatory term “piccaninnies” to refer to members of the Commonwealth, and likened his party’s internal conflicts “to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.”
Many people were surprised when Prime Minister Theresa May appointed him foreign secretary — Britain’s top diplomat.
Libya plunged into chaos following a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ended with the killing of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. Rival militias fought with each other for control, and battled with extremists linked to the Islamic State group.
The North African country is currently split between rival parliaments, governments and militias in the east and west.
Johnson has visited Libya twice this year as part of British efforts to encourage stability.
Johnson defended his Libya comments on Wednesday, accusing “people with no knowledge or understanding of Libya want to play politics with the appallingly dangerous reality in Sirte,” where authorities must remove the booby-trapped corpses of IS fighters.
Johnson was already being criticized for setting out his vision of Brexit, distinct from that of May. Johnson assured delegates in a speech Tuesday that he supported “every syllable” of the prime minister’s plan.