Libya rifts deepen as new PM named, incumbent refuses to yield

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TOBRUK, Libya (Reuters) – Libya’s divisions seemed poised to deepen on Thursday as the eastern-based parliament named a new prime minister, with the incumbent refusing to step aside.

The move threatens to plunge Libya back to the split between two warring, parallel administrations that governed from 2014 until a unity government was installed last year as part of a U.N.-backed peace plan.

A spokesman for the parliament said it had chosen former interior minister Fathi Bashagha by a show of hands after the only other candidate withdrew.

However, Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, who heads the U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNU) has rejected the parliament’s moves, saying he will only relinquish power after a national election.

The parliament wants to take control of Libya’s political future after the collapse of an election that was planned for December, saying Dbeibah’s interim government is no longer valid and pushing any new election back until next year.

Late on Thursday, Bashagha flew to Tripoli with some of the parliament members as he prepared to try to form a new government that could win majority support from parliament.

In a brief speech on arrival in Tripoli Bashagha said he thanked Dbeibah for his work and said democracy ensured a peaceful transfer of power, adding “I am sure the unity government will be committed to these democratic principles”.

Although witnesses in Tripoli said armed forces had put new security measures in place around Dbeibah’s office, there was no immediate sign of confrontation between supporters of rival camps.

Eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which waged a 14-month offensive against a Tripoli government in which Bashagha was interior minister, said it welcomed his appointment.

While Libya has had little peace or stability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, and split between warring eastern and western factions in 2014, a ceasefire has mostly held since summer 2020.

The installation of Dbeibah’s interim unity government last year and the promised march towards election was hailed as the best chance of peace for Libya in years before it all fell apart.

CONFIDENCE

However, while rival armed forces have mobilised inside Tripoli in recent weeks, analysts say this political crisis will not necessarily translate into fighting soon.

The stance of foreign states may prove critical. During the last war, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates backed the eastern side while Turkey supported the Tripoli government.

International recognition for that government also meant it was impossible for the parallel eastern administration to easily trade oil to finance its operations despite holding the main fields.

So far, the U.N. Libya adviser and Western countries have said Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity remains valid and have urged the parliament to focus instead on bringing elections forward.

Egypt on Thursday said it valued the measures taken by Libya’s parliament, which it said has the power to grant legitimacy to the executive government and oversee it.

Nearly 3 million Libyans signed up to vote in the December election, and the political jostling and delays that have followed have infuriated and frustrated many of them.

Critics of eastern-based Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh have previously accused him of chicanery in pushing through laws or decisions without proper votes.

More than 140 parliament members attended Thursday’s session and they voted to confirm a move to redraft Libya’s temporary constitution in consultation with another body, the High State Council, the parliament spokesman said.

However, as a vote on the new prime minister approached, Saleh said Bashagha’s rival in the contest had withdrawn. The session was briefly suspended and the parliament speaker quickly asked for a show of hands in support of Bashagha, whom he declared prime minister by acclamation.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali in Tobruk; additional reporting by Lilian Wagdy and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo and Ayman Sahely in Tripoli; writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean and Grant McCool)

PHOTO – Libyan interim Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha (C), newly named by the Libyan parliament, delivers a speech at Mitiga International Airport, in Tripoli, Libya, 10 February 2022. Libya’s East-based parliament appointed former Interior minister Fathi Bashagha to replace Dbeibah as head of a new interim government. EPA-EFE/STR

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