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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Head of Libya's UN-backed government calls for polls in March

GNA prime minister says presidential and parliamentary elections would be a way to end country's divisions

Libyan PM Faiez Serraj has again rejected EU proposals to impose migrant processing centres in Libya
Libyan PM Faiez Serraj has again rejected EU proposals to impose migrant processing centres in Libya

The head of Libya's UN-backed government has called for parliamentary and presidential elections in March next year, although his proposals will likely have to compete with other Libyan and international efforts to bring an end to the country's conflict.

Fayez Al Serraj, prime minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA), also called for a national ceasefire and the gradual merging of rival parliamentary bodies based in Tripoli and eastern Libya in a speech broadcast on television late on Saturday.

He said the polls aimed to elect a new president and parliament whose mandate will be of "three years maximum or until the drafting and organisation of a referendum for a constitution", and the GNA would remain as a caretaker government until after the elections.

Mr Al Serraj said he was putting forward the road map because of his "determination to escape the current crisis and unify Libyans".

"I am confident that the national spirit will overcome the narrow personal interests, and invite everyone to offer compromise even if it's painful to do so," he said.

Agreeing on an election plan and holding nationwide elections would be a major challenge given Libya's political divisions, continuing insecurity and bouts of fighting, and deteriorating infrastructure.

Libya slid into conflict after the uprising that toppled long-time Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi six years ago. The country's previous elections, in 2014, led to the formation of rival governments and parliaments in Tripoli and the east, both backed by loose alliances of armed groups.

The GNA is the result of the UN-brokered Libya Political Agreement, a deal to stabilise and unite the country that was signed in late 2015 with only partial support from political and armed factions. It has limited authority, and has been rejected by eastern-based factions aligned with the military commander Khalifa Haftar.

Mr Al Serraj spoke haltingly and sounded tired as he delivered his speech flanked by Libya's flag and behind him the slogan "Libya, together towards reconciliation and construction".

He outlined a nine-point road map which he said would help shake off years of security problems, division and economic woes, and was aimed at relaunching the Libya Political Agreement.

He said the lack of security in Libya was the most "thorny" issue facing the country, and regretted that his predecessors did not disarm militias after the 2011 revolt against Qaddafi.

"We are now harvesting the fruits of these mistakes," said Mr Al Serraj.

"The time has come for unity and the rescuing of our nation."

Since arriving in Tripoli in March last year, Mr Al Serraj has struggled to form a functioning government or tame powerful militias. A severe liquidity crisis, frequent power and water cuts, and failing public services have worsened living conditions for most.

The turmoil in Libya has also affected its neighbours Tunisia and Egypt, which have suffered extremist attacks that they say were carried out by attackers trained at militant camps in Libya.

On Sunday Egypt's military says its jet fighters destroyed 15 all-terrain vehicles carrying weapons and explosives along with "criminal elements" after they were detected getting ready to cross the Libyan border into Egypt.

The military said warplanes monitored and "dealt" with the vehicles over the previous 24 hours.

The porous desert border with Libya has been the source of serious concern to Egyptian authorities, who contend that militants and smugglers use it as their route into the country.

It said militants who attacked Christians in a series of suicide bombings in recent months were trained and sponsored by extremists in Libya.

In May, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi said setbacks suffered by ISIL Syria were driving its fighters to try to relocate to Libya and Egypt's Sinai region.