Libya MPs reject govt lineup, want crisis team

2014-09-18 20:30

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Benghazi - Libya's parliament rejected Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani's proposed 18-member cabinet on Thursday, calling for a slimline "crisis" team of no more than 10 ministers, a deputy said.

Thani and the internationally recognised parliament, elected in June, are in virtual domestic exile in the far eastern city of Tobruk because of widespread insecurity, including in the capital, where a rival administration has been set up.

That insecurity was underscored again on Thursday when unidentified gunmen murdered a retired air force chief of staff, general Ahmed Habib al-Mesmari, in second city Benghazi.

Libya has been rocked by political instability since a Nato-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Thani submitted his proposed team of 18 ministers to parliament on Wednesday, speaker Fradj Abu Hashem said, without giving names.

But a deputy said Thani proposed keeping the key defence portfolio while giving the interior portfolio, another crucial job, to a former minister, Ashur Shwayel, an independent.

A woman and human rights activist, Farid al-Allagui, was proposed as foreign minister.

Speaking on Thursday, a deputy said MPs had "decided to renew their confidence in Thani so that he might form a crisis government of limited size" of no more than 10 people.

Anti-terrorism law

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move for Libya, parliament has adopted an anti-terrorism law, whose articles were published on Thursday, laying down long prison sentences for offenders.

It was unclear how any sentences could be enforced in the largely lawless North African country awash with weapons and where militias hold sway.

The law defines terrorism as "any use of force, violence or threats to cause a serious public disorder or endanger the security of society and its interests".

It sets life imprisonment for forming or leading a terrorist organisation and at least 10 years behind bars for membership.

The law also aims to protect diplomatic missions and airlines, in a country where the writ of parliament and of the Libyan government itself are limited.

Benghazi, the cradle of the anti-Gaddafi uprising, is almost entirely in Islamist hands. And armed groups, notably Islamists from the city of Misrata, have seized Tripoli.

At the same time, fighters from the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) alliance have constituted a rival government in Tripoli under Islamist sympathiser Omar al-Hassi and set the constitutionally defunct General National Congress (GNC), or interim parliament, back to work.

Amid this chaotic scenario, an air force officer in Benghazi said on Thursday that unidentified gunmen had gunned down retired general Mesmari in the city centre.

Mesmari stood down as air force chief of staff in April after attending a meeting with renegade general Khalifa Haftar, whom the then authorities in Tripoli accused of staging a coup.

A hospital source in Benghazi said he had been "hit by several bullets".

For several months, the city has seen clashes between army forces loyal to Haftar and Islamist militias, including Ansar al-Sharia jihadists.

The Libyan authorities and the United States consider Ansar al-Sharia to be a "terrorist" group.

On 16 May, Haftar's forces launched an offensive against the jihadists in Benghazi, but his campaign has not been a success.

The Islamists on Wednesday launched another assault on Benghazi airport, Haftar's final redoubt.

Read more on:    libya  |  north africa

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