Laurent Thomet and Imed Lamloum, AFP
Last updated: 1 November, 2011

Libya elects new government head, NATO lifts air cover

Libya’s new prime minister pledged his interim government will set respect for human rights as its priority, as the UN warned against the proliferation of arms looted from Moamer Kadhafi’s huge stockpile.

Abdel Rahim al-Keib, an academic and wealthy businessman who is a native of Tripoli, was elected interim prime minister in a public vote carried out by the members of the National Transitional Council (NTC) on Monday night.

Keib told a news conference shortly after beating four other candidates in the vote that he would set human rights as a priority.

“We guarantee that we are going to build a nation that respects human rights and does not accept the abuse of human rights. But we need time,” he said.

Keib spent decades abroad as an opponent of Kadhafi before joining the pro-democracy revolution that overthrew him.

He replaces Mahmud Jibril, who resigned three days after Kadhafi was captured and killed when NTC fighters overran his hometown Sirte on October 20.

“This vote proves that Libyans are able to build their future,” NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said after Monday’s vote.

Under a political roadmap, Keib now has until November 23 to form an interim government that, parallel to the NTC, will run Libya for eight months after which elections for a constituent assembly will be held.

At that point the interim government and NTC will disband, giving way to a “general national congress” that the constituent assembly will form to run the country until parliamentary and presidential elections are held.

The appointment of a new prime minister came as the UN Security Council on Monday called on Libya’s interim authorities and neighboring countries to stamp out the spread of weapons from Kadhafi’s stockpiles.

Amid mounting fears that militant groups in Africa and beyond could get shoulder-fired rockets and other weapons from the Kadhafi cache, the 15-member council unanimously passed a resolution demanding the clampdown.

Resolution 2017, drawn up by Russia, stressed international fears that the stockpile could cause unrest through Africa’s Sahel region and fall into the hands of groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The resolution called on Libya “to take all necessary steps to prevent the proliferation of all arms,” especially man-portable surface-to-air missiles, MANPADS.

Since the death of ousted despot Kadhafi on October 20, Libya’s transitional government has found two chemical weapons sites hidden by the old regime, experts said.

The UN envoy to Libya, Ian Martin, told the Security Council last week that international inspectors have to visit hundreds of suspected weapons stockpile sites in Libya.

Kadhafi’s regime “accumulated the largest known stockpile of anti-aircraft missiles” outside of producing countries, Martin said.

The MANPAD surface-to-air missiles can be used against civilian jets and other ordnance can easily be converted into car bombs and roadside explosives, according to experts.

Monday’s election of a new prime minister followed a visit to Tripoli by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen to mark the official end of the alliance air war that helped topple Kadhafi.

The no-fly zone and naval blockade, enforced by NATO since March 31, ended a minute before midnight Monday Libyan time (2159 GMT), as stipulated by a UN Security Council resolution last week that ended the alliance’s mandate.

“At midnight tonight, a successful chapter in NATO’s history is coming to an end. But you have also started writing a new chapter in Libya’s history,” Rasmussen told a joint news conference with Abdel Jalil.

Earlier, he told AFP that the military alliance stood ready to help the new Libya in areas such as defence and security reform.

“(But with) no NATO troops on the ground, I don’t foresee a major NATO role,” he added.