BENGHAZI, Libya: Libya’s new parliament agreed Tuesday that the next president would be elected by popular vote as lawmakers sought to overcome a confrontation between two armed factions.
Western partners hope the new parliament will open space for negotiations between rival militias and their political backers and return Libya to stability after a month of clashes that have turned Tripoli and Benghazi into battlefields.
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for the new president to be directly elected by the Libyan people as it seeks to put the country back on track toward democracy, three years after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown. No date has been set for the election.
Libya is caught in its worst violence since the civil war ousted Gadhafi, with armed factions clashing in the capital Tripoli with rockets, artillery and mortars.
“We have made the decision on electing the president directly, but we have not set a date for the vote until we discuss the current crisis and see how stable the situation is, lawmaker Fatthallah Saiti told Reuters.
Libya’s fragile government has been caught in political infighting that paralyzed the last parliament and empowered rival brigades of heavily armed ex-rebels.
Those factions have clashed in the past, but last month their rivalries erupted into heavy street battles that are part of a wider struggle over the spoils of post-Gadhafi Libya.
Most Western diplomats have pulled out of Libya and closed their embassies, fearing the North African oil-producing state is edging closer to another war.
Hooded attackers shot dead Tripoli police Chief Colonel Mohammad al-Suissi in the capital’s eastern suburbs Tuesday, a security source told AFP.
“Colonel Suissi was assassinated by a group of unknown hooded people who opened fire on him in his vehicle. Two men with him were kidnapped in the attack,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
Suissi had taken part in a meeting of Tajura municipal council in the eastern suburbs and was on his way back to Tripoli city center when the attack took place, the source said.
State news agency Lana confirmed the assassination and said Colonel Suissi died shortly after arrival at a nearby clinic.
The agency added that the two bodyguards who had been abducted when Suissi was killed had been freed and were heading back to their Tripoli headquarters. It gave no further details. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Interior Ministry spokesman Rami Kaal said an investigation was underway into Suissi’s death, adding that funeral arrangements were being planned for the police chief.
Clashes have killed at least 124 people and wounded more than 500. Officials say the strife has displaced around 36,000 people who have fled the area for safer parts of Tripoli.
The violence has triggered a dire humanitarian situation in the Libyan capital, where gasoline and bottled gas have become scarce along with food supplies and water.
Many shops and banks have also stayed closed.
A U.N. delegation has been holding talks with the two factions in an attempt to broker a cease-fire.
The United Nations mission in Libya, known as UNSMIL, called on both sides to respond positively to efforts to end bloodshed. “UNSMIL strongly condemns the continuing battles in Tripoli despite the repeated official and international calls for an immediate cease-fire and to refrain from the use of force to resolve political differences.”