‘Big differences’ as Libya parliament postpones vote on unity government

Sunday 17/04/2016
Growing uncertainty

TRIPOLI - Libya's parliament postponed a vote of confidence expected to be held Monday on a new UN-backed unity government seeking to assert its authority, deputies said.

They said a special session of the internationally-recognised parliament, to be held in the eastern city of Tobruk, failed to take place because of "big differences".

Also on Monday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond flew into Tripoli hot on the heels of visits last week by the foreign ministers of Italy, France and Germany for talks on shoring up prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj's cabinet.

The international community sees the Government of National Accord (GNA) as the best hope for resolving years of chaos in Libya, and European Union ministers were on Monday to discuss economic and security projects supporting it.

Oil-rich Libya has been roiled by turmoil since the 2011 ouster and killing of Muammar Gaddafi, causing widespread alarm in the West.

Concern has been compounded by the expansion of the Islamic State group in Libya, where the jihadists have set up a bastion just 300 kilometres (185 miles) from Italy across the Mediterranean.

People smugglers are also feeding on the chaos, with a surge of illegal migration to Europe from Libya.

Formed under a power-sharing deal agreed by some Libyan lawmakers in December, the GNA has been working to assert its authority but needs formal endorsement from parliament and support from a rival administration.

The GNA pushed ahead Monday with its efforts to assert its authority by taking over the ministries of housing and public works and social affairs in Tripoli.

They were handed over to state minister Mohammad al-Amari, an official statement said, adding without elaborating that the takeover of a third ministry -- youth and sports -- had been delayed.

Deputy premier Ahmed Maiteeq has said the government would begin running the three ministries.

The Foreign Office in London said Hammond and Sarraj discussed the GNA's plans to rebuild the country, tackle IS and people trafficking.

"Fighting Daesh and fighting illegal migration is part of the same agenda, and of course it must be for the Libyan people, the Libyan government, to decide how to recapture their country from the Daesh invaders, but the international community stands ready to support them, to provide training and technical assistance in any way," Hammond said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

He said Britain was committing an extra £10 million to help the GNA "strengthen political institutions, the economy, security, and justice".

Kobler called Hammond's visit a sign of the international community's "unwavering support" for Libyan stability and unity.

Libya has had two rival administrations since a militia alliance took over Tripoli in mid-2014, setting up its own authority and forcing the elected parliament to flee to Tobruk.

The head of the Tripoli administration, Khalifa Ghweil, has refused to recognise the authority of the Sarraj government which he deems illegal.

Sarraj arrived in Tripoli on March 30 under naval escort and has set up his government in a naval base.

Since then he was won the trust of local officials, including mayors of cities ruled by the Tripoli administration, and key state institutions have pledged allegiance to the GNA.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said European foreign and defence ministers would hold talks via video link from Luxembourg with Sarraj later Monday on how best to shore up his government.

They will work "to identify concrete projects in different fields that are the priorities of the Libyan people and of the Libyan government... on the economic and political and security side", she said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the EU ministers would discuss steps to stop arms trafficking and migrant smuggling.

At least eight African migrants, and possibly as many as 27, died after an overcrowded boat left the Libyan port of Sabratha, a search and rescue organisation said on Monday.

In the east, meanwhile, five days of violence between pro-government forces and armed groups in second city Benghazi has left 26 loyalist soldiers dead, the Lana news agency close to the recognised parliament reported.