x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Libyans urged by leader of NTC to rally together under banner of moderate Islam

The legal system must be allowed to handle members of the old regime, says Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, amid public demonstrations against former Qaddafi loyalists who defected to rebels.

TRIPOLI / / The head of Libya's interim leadership used his first public speech in the capital to ask the people to let the law handle members of the old regime.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), also pleaded with his countrymen to rally together under a moderate strain of Islam.

"We need to open the courts to anyone who harmed the Libyan people in any way," said Mr Jalil, a former minister of justice under Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.

Speaking to 10,000 cheering people in Martyrs Square on Monday, he added: "We seek a state of law, prosperity and one where Sharia is the main source for legislation. This requires many things and conditions."

Mr Jalil's words reflect his attempts to walk the line between conservative Islamic groups and secular liberals, many of whom are Libyans returning from abroad.

The challenges are plentiful. Officials point to increasingly fraught relations between different camps about the future of the country, especially with elections more than eight months away.

The Tripoli military council has called for the resignation of Mahmoud Jibril, the acting prime minister, saying he has lost the confidence of the people, according to the Associated Press.

This comes as thousands of people across the country last week held demonstrations against the so-called "climbers".

The term describes former Qaddafi loyalists who defected to the rebels near the end of the conflict and said they had been forced to act by the old regime.

Mr Jibril served as Col Qaddafi's head of the National Economic Development Board from 2007 to earlier this year.

The issue of the "climbers" has emerged as Libya's first major political topic since the downfall of the regime.

There is also the issue of geographic differences. Col Qaddafi held the country's three geographic regions together by force.

Libya has traditionally been made up of three areas - Tripolitania in the west, Fezzan in the south and Cyrenaica in the east.

Mohammed Omar Mukhtar, the 90-year-old son of the freedom fighter Omar Mukhtar, who fought the Italians and was executed 80 years ago on Friday, said: "The first blood was spilled in the east, so we feel some importance in this revolution.

"We will feel like one country again. I would love to visit free Tripoli. This war, if God wills it, is bringing all Libyans together. In a way, Qaddafi made the nation by fighting us."

Mr Mukhtar, who lives in Benghazi, said the capture of Col Qaddafi, his sons and aides was important to Libya's reconciliation.

"We can't let him escape to Africa," he said. "If he is alive, he will bother us for the rest of our lives. He won't stop."

Three top generals who served under Col Qaddafi were negotiating for political refugee status in Niger, according to the AP, but the whereabouts of the former leader is still unknown.

A major impediment to a smooth transition to democracy is the proliferation of weapons among ordinary citizens, who until six months ago would not have touched a gun except during mandatory service in the army.

NTC officials have said they will not start programmes to get weapons out of civilian hands until elections are held.

This leaves the country with the threat of anti-government actions by dozens of semi-autonomous, heavily armed brigades of rebel fighters.

Some groups in Misurata, the country's third-largest city that saw some of the worst destruction and highest losses during the revolution, have vowed not fall in line with the NTC.

On an individual basis, guns are stymying debate.

"If I am sitting with someone who has a gun, I will not bring up sensitive things," said Saleh Senoussi, a professor of international relations at the University of Benghazi. "But we need to have discussions. Now is the time for talking to create a new Libya."

"We just want a new dictator, a good Qaddafi," said Mohammed Yemeni, who returned to Libya from Malta to help take care of his family during the fighting.

He plans to go back as soon as things quiet down.

"I don't think we are ready for democracy yet. Nobody will listen to anyone else, no matter what."

bhope@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press