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Libya elects new interim prime minister as NATO ends all operations in country

Libya's newly elected Prime Minister Abdul al-Raheem al-Qeeb (L) shakes hands with National Transitional Council (NTC) Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil at the end of a public vote in Tripoli October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Zetouny

TRIPOLI: Tripoli academic, Abdul al-Raheem al-Qeeb, was elected Monday as Libya’s interim prime minister in a vote conducted by members of the ruling National Transitional Council in front of reporters.

Former interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, fulfilled a promise to resign after Libya was declared officially “liberated” after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown Sirte and his subsequent killing.

The NTC has promised to hold elections after eight months for a national assembly that will spend a year drawing up a new constitution before a parliamentary poll.

Meanwhile, NATO’s top official praised the alliance’s seven-month sea and air campaign in Libya – key in ousting longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi – saying the mission’s end Monday marks the close of a “successful chapter in NATO’s history.”

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was making his first visit to Tripoli since the end of the civil war less than two weeks ago, also congratulated the country’s revolutionaries on their victory and said they “helped change the region.”

“You acted to change your history and your destiny, we acted to protect you,” Fogh Rasmussen said at a joint news conference with Libya’s interim leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil. “Together we succeeded: Libya is finally free.”

NATO operations in the country officially end at midnight Monday Libyan time (2200 GMT). Last week, the U.N. Security Council – which authorized the mission in March – ordered an end to all military action in Libya.

Over the past seven months, allied air forces carried out 9,600 strike sorties, destroying about 5,900 military targets. An average of 15 warships were on station at all times off the Libyan coast to enforce an arms embargo.

“At midnight tonight, a successful chapter in NATO’s history is coming to an end, but you have already started writing a new chapter in the history of Libya, a new Libya based on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Fogh Rasmussen said. “We know it’s not easy. We know the challenges, and if you ask us for help in areas where we can help, we will.”

NATO persevered during a monthslong period of stalemate on the battlefield, when it appeared that Libya could become an Afghanistan-like quagmire. With the alliance airstrikes helping open the way, revolutionary forces eventually captured Tripoli in late August, and brought an end to the war with the capture and death of Gadhafi Oct. 20. Abdul-Jalil, who is the head of Libya’s National Transitional Council, thanked Fogh Rasmussen for the alliance’s support.

“NATO operations were successful, with the grace of God and the determination of fighters,” he said. “The strikes were accurate so that civilians were not impacted, the people of Libya can testify to this.”

The end of the NATO mission clears the way for passenger flights to and from Libya. Transportation Minister Anwar al-Fitouri said that Libya’s four airports would resume operations Tuesday.

In recent weeks, some airlines had resumed limited service, with planes landing at Tripoli’s Metiga military airport. Several flights carrying Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia have taken off from Tripoli’s main airport.

With the Libya mission drawing to a close, spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said NATO staff temporarily seconded to the headquarters in Naples, Italy, for the operation, are being reassigned to regular duties.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 01, 2011, on page 1.

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