Libya's powerful militias have extended to Friday a deadline demanding that the interim parliament step down or face arrest. The move comes as Libyans prepare to vote on Thursday for a panel that will draft a new constitution.
Militias made up of former rebels from the western town of Zintan had given the General National Congress (GNC), the country's highest political authority, a late Tuesday deadline to quit, threatening to seize any lawmakers who failed to comply.
But Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said that a "compromise" had been reached with the militias, extending the deadline by 72 hours to Friday. He said that "wisdom had prevailed" after discussions with representatives from the militias, the assembly and the United Nations.
One rebel commander, Jamal Habil, accused the parliament of "seizing power" and said it was trying to extend its mandate for as long as possible. The mandate of the parliament was to have expired this month but a motion was passed to extend it by another year.
Many Libyans are angry that parliament, widely viewed as a failed institution, should hold on to power until then.
Yielding to pressure in the wake of street protests, the GNC agreed on Sunday to hold early polls to elect new transitional authorities rather than wait for the constitution to be finalised.
The speaker of the GNC, Nuri Abu Sahmein, had earlier rejected the militias' ultimatum, calling it "a coup d'état" and saying the army had been ordered to act against the militias.
Zeidan himself was kidnapped and briefly held by armed militiamen last year.
Thursday's vote marks the latest milestone in the chaotic transition following the 2011 overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi, but it has so far generated little enthusiasm among Libyans who are frustrated by the government's inability to impose order on the rebel groups that helped depose him.
In the more than two years since Gaddafi was captured and killed, former rebel brigades – many of them armed with heavy weapons looted from Gaddafi's arsenals – have carved out fiefdoms across the sprawling country, with many refusing government demands to disarm or to join the armed forces.
The ultimatum from the Zintan militias was also criticised by several other rebel groups, political parties and civil society groups, which voiced support for the elected government assembly.
The militias issuing Tuesday's ultimatum included the Al-Qaaqaa and Al-Sawaiq brigades, two of the most powerful and well-disciplined. They are both nominally loyal to the regular Libyan army.
The newly elected constitutional panel will be in charge of deciding key issues such as establishing Libya's new system of government, outlining the status of ethnic minorities and determining the role of Islamic sharia law.
But only 1.1 million people have registered to vote, compared with more than 2.7 million who registered for the 2012 vote on the interim parliament, from an electoral roll of 3.4 million.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-19