x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Libya's post-Qaddafi rulers name new cabinet

The head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and Libya¿s de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, said they would step down after the country is fully secured, putting an end to weeks of political infighting.

An anti-Qaddafi fighter fires an RPG-7 during fighting close to the centre of Sirte yesterday. Anis Mili / Reuters
An anti-Qaddafi fighter fires an RPG-7 during fighting close to the centre of Sirte yesterday. Anis Mili / Reuters

BENGHAZI // Libya's transitional leaders named a new cabinet yesterday and said they would step down after the country is fully secured, putting an end to weeks of political infighting.

The head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and Libya's de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, made the announcement in a news conference in Benghazi.

NTC forces are still battling loyalists of the ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi on two fronts as well as in pockets in the southern desert. But Mr Abdul-Jalil said liberation will be declared after Colonel Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte is captured because that would ensure the borders are secure. He also promised to name a new transitional government within a month after liberation is declared.

"We have signed a pledge that we will not take part in any future government in any way," Mr Abdul-Jalil said.

The NTC has promised to hold elections eight months after the end of fighting. The definition of victory as the capture of Sirte is a tacit acknowledgement that the fierce resistance in Bani Walid is likely to continue.

But Mr Abdul-Jalil noted that Bani Walid is landlocked and doesn't pose a threat to Libya's borders.

"We ask Libyans to understand that this is a sensitive and critical stage," he told reporters.

After weeks of wrangling, the new Cabinet line-up did not contain many changes. Mr Jibril remains in his position but also takes over as foreign minister, meaning his current deputy and foreign minister Ali Al Issawi is out. Ali Al Tarhouni, a US-educated economist, will continue acting as oil minister until the National Oil Company is ready to take over.

Near Sirte, fighting raged yesterday for control of Colonel Qaddafi's birthplace. Commanders of the advancing NTC troops said they now controlled most of Qasr Abu Hadi, the town where Qaddafi was born in a tent in 1942. It was the latest in a string of loyalist communities to be mopped up by NTC troops as they close in on Sirte.

An international Red Cross team tried to deliver medical supplies to hospitals in the city but was forced to turn back when intense exchanges of fire erupted on the front line. "Seventy-five per cent of Qadr Abu Hadi is under our control," NTC field commander Mufbah Raslan told AFP.

Nato, meanwhile, urged Libya's new government to ensure the security of arms caches left behind by Qaddafi's regime.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday that it was "a matter of concern if stockpiles of weapons are not properly controlled and monitored."

He was answering questions about reports that thousands of SAM-7 portable surface-to-air missiles allegedly went missing after Colonel Qaddafi's army collapsed.

The United States and other Western nations are trying to reduce the global stock of such missiles, fearing they could fall into the hands of terrorists. The SAM-7s are considered obsolete by modern military standards but could pose a threat to civil airliners.

*Associated Press with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse