Libya’s contested new cabinet convened for the first time Thursday, defying the outgoing administration, which refuses to hand over power and held its own session.
Amid the political chaos in the largely lawless North African state, the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) announced that Libya is go to the polls on June 25 as planned.
A source in new Prime Minister Ahmed Miitig’s office said his team met in a Tripoli luxury hotel.
The seat of government is still occupied by the outgoing cabinet, which said it also met Thursday.
The incoming team’s agenda covered security issues and ministerial programmes, the source said, asking not to be named.
The governmental crisis adds to security chaos at a time when state coffers in the oil-rich country are being drained and a 2014 budget has yet to be adopted.
At a news conference, HNEC president Imad al-Sayeh urged Libyans to register on electoral lists by a midnight deadline, noting that only 1.4 million of the 3.4 million eligible voters had signed up so far.
The date for polling remains June 25, as announced earlier this month, “and Libyans living abroad will vote on June 21-22,” he said.
The elections are to replace the General National Congress, the interim parliament that became Libya’s highest political authority after the ouster and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
The GNC was elected in July 2012, in Libya’s first ever free polls. But its legitimacy was challenged after it unilaterally prolonged its mandate, due to expire this February, until December.
Under the pressure of street protests, it announced new elections.
But Libya’s political crisis deepened Wednesday when outgoing premier Abdullah al-Thani submitting a request for a court ruling on whether he must hand over power to his GNC-elected successor.
Critics have charged that Miitig was “illegally elected” as prime minister at a chaotic session of the GNC in a vote manipulated by Islamists.
– Governments at loggerheads –
Thani resigned last month after claiming he and his family had been attacked, but Thani’s outgoing team and the Miitig administration remain at loggerheads.
Several politicians and armed groups, which hold the balance of power in Libya, have warned they will not recognise the Miitig government, although it won a vote of confidence in the GNC last Sunday.
On Wednesday, gunmen attacked an interior ministry team in Tripoli tasked with protecting the outgoing government, while a rogue ex-general resumed air strikes on jihadists in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Air forces units loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar attacked a jihadist camp on the outskirts of Benghazi, cradle of the 2011 uprising.
Haftar, who returned to Libya from American exile to join the revolution, launched an anti-jihadist campaign in Benghazi on May 16 when his forces also carried out air strikes.
Subsequent fighting killed at least 79 people.
Amid the ever-worsening insecurity, Washington has urged US citizens there to leave “immediately” and has sent a warship to deploy off the Libyan coast in case the embassy needs to be evacuated.
And Libya’s neighbours, attending a meeting in Algiers of the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed their “profound concern,” urging dialogue.
The foreign ministers of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger and Tunisia called for “an end to bloodshed in favour of a civil peace, which would guarantee the security of Libya’s citizens against all attempts at destabilisation… that threaten the security of neighbouring countries and the region.”