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Libyan PM, foreign powers back landmark election in December

Libya’s prime minister and several foreign powers have endorsed the holding of a national election on December 24, as envisaged in a United Nations-backed peace plan aimed at resolving years of turmoil and division.

Speaking at the Libya Stabilisation Conference in Tripoli on Thursday, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said it was possible to end the crisis that has engulfed the country since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

“We support the efforts of the higher election committee to hold [the vote] on the planned date. I call for a wide and effective participation of Libyans in the elections,” Dbeibah said.

Elections have been viewed as a key step in ending a decade of violence and creating a new political leadership whose legitimacy is widely accepted.

The final communique at the conference, which included foreign ministers from France, Italy and Arab states, as well as US and United Nations officials, stressed the importance of taking confidence-building measures in order to hold a fair, transparent and inclusive vote.

The UN process had called for presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24 but wrangling over the rules governing the vote and questions about its credibility had threatened to unravel the peace process.

The presidential and parliamentary votes were set for the same day but last month the parliament announced that the legislative elections, the country’s first since 2014, would be postponed until January.

Thursday’s conference aimed to “gather the necessary support, in a transparent way” for the presidential election, said Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush in a video published by the ministry on Sunday.

Foreign powers have been pushing hard for the election to be held as scheduled after the date was agreed at the UN-led talks last year. But the process has been beset by sharp disagreements about the legal basis for the vote.

Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Tripoli, said Thursday’s conference marked a milestone because it was being held in Libya itself, with previous summits on the situation in the North African country being held overseas.

“Libyans are happy to see that Tripoli is safe enough for senior officials to arrive in their country,” Traina said. “There is hope Libya will be recognised around the world as a sovereign and respectable country,” he added.

After disputed elections in 2014, the country was carved up by rival factions backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

A ceasefire between eastern and western-based factions last year led to a unity government taking office in March with a mandate to take the country to elections.

Libya expert Emadeddin Badi said the basis for the polls was “becoming more precarious by the day”.

But the conference aims to “capitalise on the momentum to see Libya stabilised, because several countries do actually want to see a stable Libya, even if on their own terms”, he told the AFP news agency.

Foreign interference

France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that a conference on Libya in Paris next month aimed to give a final international push so that elections would be held by year-end and to endorse the departure of foreign forces.

“It will provide the last international impetus needed in support of the elections at the end of the year … [and] endorse the Libyan plan for the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries and support its implementation, to put an end to foreign interference,” Jean-Yves le Drian said in a speech.

At a joint news conference on Thursday with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al Sabah, Mangoush said the communique cited a commitment to the sovereignty and independence of Libya and rejection of foreign interference in its internal affairs.

“There is no other option but to respect fully the principle of non-interference. Deterrent actions should be taken against all those who interfere in others’ sovereignty,” she said, referring to foreign forces deployed in the North African country.

Last December, the UN estimated that 20,000 foreign fighters were present in Libya.

They range from Russians sent by the shadowy Kremlin-linked Wagner group to African and Syrian mercenaries and Turkish soldiers deployed under a deal with a previous unity government at the height of the last round of east-west fighting.

Al Jazeera’s Traina said the interim government was expected to push for the withdrawal of the fighters before the election.

“The Libyans have come up with a plan to expel these foreign fighters and they are hoping that the international community that is here today will help and support them in this, as making these foreign fighters leave the country is integral to holding a fair election,” he said.

The minimal progress since a January deadline for their full departure under a ceasefire deal reflects the complexity of the issue.

Earlier this month, a joint commission of eastern and western military commanders agreed to a plan for their departure, but it lacked a timeline.

Tripoli has said a “very modest” number of fighters have left.

Last but not least on the list of Libya’s woes is the question of integrating and unifying the country’s armed forces under a single command, forces that as recently as last year were fighting each other.

And while in theory, the country has a unity government, its east is largely controlled by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, widely expected to stand as a presidential candidate but despised by many in Libya’s west.

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