Libya’s interim government takes power after a smooth handover

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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — A transitional government in conflict-stricken Libya took power in the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, officially beginning a term slated to end in democratic elections later this year.

Fayez Sarraj, head of the outgoing United Nations-backed administration in western Libya, handed over power to Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Mohammad Younes Menfi, who chairs a three-member Presidential Council.

The ceremony in Tripoli came a day after Dbeibah and his cabinet were sworn in before lawmakers and top Libyan judges in the eastern city of Tobruk. Lawmakers had already approved the caretaker government last week under international pressure to implement a UN-brokered political roadmap. The roadmap, endorsed by a Libyan political forum chosen by the UN last year, set December 24 for general elections in the oil-rich country.

The endorsement of Dbeibah’s cabinet by parliament came amid allegations of corruption at meetings of the UN-led political process that appointed the interim government. Dbeibah denied the allegations and called on the UN to reveal details of its investigation into the charges.

A UN panel of experts has determined that at least three participants in the political forum in early November were offered bribes to vote for an anonymous candidate for prime minister. The experts’ report published on Tuesday does not name the members of the forum or the candidate.

The participants who were allegedly involved “were adamant in their rejection of the bribes,” the panel said. The issue attracted media attention at the time and the Libyan attorney general’s office received complaints from forum members and civil society groups, the panel said.

The panel said it was not considering “any further report on the matter”, referring members of the UN Security Council to further details of the allegations in a confidential appendix to the 548-page report.

Tuesday’s surprisingly smooth transfer of power is seen as an important step in ending the chaos in the North African country. The absence of a real transfer of power between legislators in 2014 was a major factor in the split in Libyan institutions.

“Today is yet another historic day for Libya,” Claudia Gazzini, Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said of Tuesday’s handover. The caretaker government, however, would face huge challenges, mainly to avoid political stalemate or a relapse into war, she said.

The presence of thousands of foreign forces and mercenaries is another major challenge. Last week, the UN Security Council called on countries with troops and mercenaries in Libya to withdraw them “without delay”.

The UN estimated that there were 20,000 foreign fighters in Libya, including Syrians, Turks, Sudanese and Russians brought into the country by the rival parties.

Libya was thrown into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. In recent years, the country has been divided between rival administrations based in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

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