UN more neutral on PM appointed in Libya’s east, urges vote

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has taken note of the appointment by Libya’s east-based parliament of a new prime minister and is following the situation in the North African country closely, his spokesman said Friday.

The statement by the U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, seems to reflect a more neutral position than the U.N.’s initial support for the current interim prime minister based in the capital, Tripoli, in western Libya.

The east-based lawmakers on Thursday appointed former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to replace Abdul Hamid Dbeibah as head of a new interim government, a development that appeared to counter U.N. efforts to reconcile the country, long divided between rival administrations in the east and west.

Asked about Bashagha’s appointment on Thursday, Dujarric said “yes” when pressed on whether the U.N. still recognized Dbebah, whose job was to steer the country to elections. They had been scheduled for Dec. 24 but were postponed over disputes between the rival factions on laws governing the elections and controversial presidential contestants.

Dujarric issued a more neutral and nuanced statement on Friday, saying secretary-general Guterres is following the situation in Libya closely. His special adviser, Stephanie Williams, is on the ground and has been contacting the parties “trying to keep the process on track,” the spokesman has said.

Guterres “takes note” of Thursday’s vote in the House of Representatives in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk to designate a new prime minister,” Dujarric said in Friday’s statement.

“The secretary-general further calls on all parties to continue to preserve stability in Libya as a top priority,” Dujarric said. “He reminds all institutions of the primary goal of holding national elections as soon possible in order to ensure that the political will of the 2.8 million Libyan citizens who registered to vote are respected.”

The decision by the east-based lawmakers to appoint a new prime minister has raised fears of a return to the divisions in Libya, which plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed 2011 uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

In April 2019, east-based military commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive trying to capture Tripoli, where the U.N.-supported government is based. Hifter’s campaign collapsed after Turkey and Qatar stepped up their military support for the Tripoli government with hundreds of Turkish soldiers and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

Mediated by Williams, then a U.N. envoy, an October 2020 cease-fire led to the formation of a transitional government with Dbeibah as prime minister and scheduled elections for Dec. 24 which are now postponed.

East-based lawmakers have argued that the mandate of Dbeibah’s government ended on that date.

Dbeibah has maintained that his government would not leave power without first overseeing national elections. He repeatedly warned against what he called attempts to reignite the country’s conflict.

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