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Middle East

Libya mulls June elections in bid to ease crisis

Former rebel fighters who are now intergrated into the Libyan army and form the Diraa al-Gharbiya brigade, are seen with their weapons guarding the Muaskar 27 (Camp 27) at the western entrance of the capital Tripoli on May 19, 2014.(AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA)

TRIPOLI: Libya’s election commission proposed Tuesday holding a fresh round of parliamentary polls next month in a bid to find a peaceful resolution to a crisis triggered by a renegade general’s efforts to crush Islamist militias and his demand that the Islamist-led legislature disband for allegedly supporting extremism.

The announcement of a possible nationwide June 25 vote came after parliament met in what lawmakers had hoped would be a secret location. A missile was fired at the hotel where the session was taking place, causing panic but no injuries.

The general, Khalifa Hifter, has launched an armed campaign he says is aimed at imposing stability after three years of chaos since the ouster and death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. He says he wants to break the power of Islamists, whom he accuses of opening the door to Islamist radicals.

Hifter denies seeking power but indicated Tuesday that he would be interested in running for president, an office which has remained vacant since the revolution, pending the drafting of a new constitution.

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the biggest factions in parliament, denounced Hifter as “a counter-revolutionary allying with remnants of Gadhafi’s forces.” Mohammed Gair, a leading group member, called for dialogue to avert a struggle in which “no one is a winner and the only losers are the Libyan people.”

The U.S. State Department said it did not endorse Hifter’s actions and called for dialogue to end the unrest.

“We have not had contact with him recently. We do not condone or support the actions on the ground, nor have we assisted with these actions,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “We are continuing to call on all parties to refrain from violence and to seek resolution through peaceful means.”

There was confusion over whether the new election date had officially been endorsed.

“The commission has not yet officially announced June 25 as the date of the elections of the House of Representatives. But it is only one of the proposals to hold the elections,” election commission member Abdulhakeem al-Shaab told Reuters.

A local television station had earlier quoted the election commission as saying that the June date was set.

The standoff has developed into a potential battle for power as many of Libya’s militias line up behind either of the two camps. Hifter’s allied militias are positioned along the road to Tripoli’s airport, south of the capital, while Islamist-led militias from Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, have mobilized and are positioned to move into the capital.

Libya has had no effective government since Gadhafi’s fall. The rebel brigades that fought him transformed into armed militias after his regime’s collapse and have mushroomed in size, power and armaments.

Some remain rooted in local loyalties but have spread their power to other regions. Others are ideologically based – particularly Al-Qaeda-inspired extremist militias, which have waged a campaign of violence in Bengazhi.

Islamists, including the Brotherhood, garner a slim majority in Parliament. Earlier this year, they succeeded in removing Western-backed premier Ali Zidan, despite street protests demanding the legislature’s dissolution after its mandate expired. Islamist lawmakers voted to name a businessman, Ahmad Maiteg, as the next prime minister, but their opponents rejected the vote as illegal.

Powerful militias allied to Hifter Sunday stormed parliament and declared it suspended, a move endorsed Tuesday by Zidan.The interim government ignored Hifter’s declaration but proposed that parliament find a new candidate for prime minister, and then stop its work to allow for new general elections. But MPs appeared to reject that proposal by calling during Tuesday’s session for a vote of confidence in Maiteg.

Maiteg called for the vote to be postponed for 10 days to allow the creation of a national consensus government, lawmakers said. The session adjourned, and lawmakers were to return to decide on the proposal.

In an interview published in the daily Asharq al-Awsat, Hifter denied receiving any support from Gulf countries or Egypt, all bitter foes of the Brotherhood, and said he would run for president “if the people see fit.”

“If the people ask me [to be president], I won’t hesitate a moment to fulfill their request,” he said. “We are ready for any duty at any time.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Libya's election commission proposed Tuesday holding a fresh round of parliamentary polls next month in a bid to find a peaceful resolution to a crisis triggered by a renegade general's efforts to crush Islamist militias and his demand that the Islamist-led legislature disband for allegedly supporting extremism.

The announcement of a possible nationwide June 25 vote came after parliament met in what lawmakers had hoped would be a secret location.

The general, Khalifa Hifter, has launched an armed campaign he says is aimed at imposing stability after three years of chaos since the ouster and death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 . He says he wants to break the power of Islamists, whom he accuses of opening the door to Islamist radicals.

The standoff has developed into a potential battle for power as many of Libya's militias line up behind either of the two camps.

Powerful militias allied to Hifter Sunday stormed parliament and declared it suspended, a move endorsed Tuesday by Zidan.The interim government ignored Hifter's declaration but proposed that parliament find a new candidate for prime minister, and then stop its work to allow for new general elections.


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