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Tensions as new Libya PM named after chaotic vote

Reporters watch a live feed of Libyan members of parliament meeting to decide between two candidates for the post of prime minister at the parliament in the capital, Tripoli, on May 4, 2014
Reporters watch a live feed of Libyan members of parliament meeting to decide between two candidates for the post of prime minister at the parliament in the capital, Tripoli, on May 4, 2014

Libya on Monday confirmed the appointment of a new premier after a chaotic vote highlighting tensions between Islamists and liberals in a country sapped by violence nearly three years after the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.

The General National Congress, the interim parliament, ratified Ahmed Miitig, an Islamist-backed businessman, as prime minister in a decision signed by its speaker.

However, it is still unclear if the decision by Nuri Abu Sahmein -- whose own position is disputed -- will end a legal and political row over Miitig's election, which has been rejected by several lawmakers and Abu Sahmein's own deputy.

The GNC said it had ratified the 42-year-old's appointment in a move that would make him Libya's youngest and fifth premier since long-time autocrat Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 uprising.

"Ahmed Omar Miitig was appointed head of the transitional government, and asked to form his cabinet and present it to the GNC for a confidence vote within 15 days," said the text of a decision signed by Abu Sahmein.

However, the appointment has been rejected by several MPs and the deputy speaker, Ezzedine al-Awami.

One lawmaker, Tahar al-Mokni, indicated there were still doubts about the appointment.

The president of Libya's General National Congress (GNC), Nuri Abu Sahmein speaks during a press conference in Tripoli on March 12, 2014
The president of Libya's General National Congress (GNC), Nuri Abu Sahmein speaks during a press conference in Tripoli on March 12, 2014

Mokni said the speaker had indeed signed the decision, but that he had not attended Sunday night's GNC session when the vote was held.

Abu Sahmein has not been seen in public for weeks, with some MPs demanding his resignation over suspected involvement in a "moral" scandal.

The GNC indicated that Abu Sahmein was abroad for unspecified treatment.

Contacted by AFP on Monday, the spokesman for the outgoing government, Ahmed Lamine, was unable to comment on Miitig's appointment.

Since the uprising, successive governments in the oil-rich country have struggled to impose order as heavily armed former rebel brigades have carved out their own fiefdoms and refused to join the security forces.

The post of prime minister has proved both challenging and dangerous.

Ali Zeidan, voted out by parliament for failing to prevent a rebel oil shipment in March, was kidnapped by gunmen last year and held for several hours.

- Gunmen interrupt vote -

Last month Zeidan's defence minister Abdullah al-Thani was appointed to replace him. But then he quit after just five days, saying that he and his family had come under attack.

State television broadcast footage from Sunday's chaotic GNC session, the second in a week to decide between two candidates.

After an initial meeting on April 27, parliament had gathered again on Tuesday, when Miitig won 67 votes in a first round and Benghazi university professor Omar al-Hassi came second with 34.

Tuesday's second round of voting was interrupted by gunmen who stormed into parliament for reasons that remain unclear, shooting and forcing deputies to evacuate the premises.

Libyan security forces are seen advancing during clashes with anti-government forces following an attack on a Benghazi police station, early on May 2, 2014
Libyan security forces are seen advancing during clashes with anti-government forces following an attack on a Benghazi police station, early on May 2, 2014

On Sunday, GNC vice president Awami said Miitig defeated Hassi by 73 votes to 43 but secured only 113 of the 120 required for a vote of confidence.

However Awami's deputy, Salah al-Makhzum, later announced the relatively unknown businessman had clinched 121 votes in the 185-seat assembly, apparently after a recount.

In a statement posted later on the government's website, Awami declared the vote of confidence "void and illegal."

Some deputies denounced the recount, saying it took place after the session had officially closed.

The GNC was elected in July 2012 for an 18-month term, but in February extended its own mandate to December, sparking widespread protests.

Parliament's Islamist supporters backed the extension but the liberal National Forces Alliance denounced it as undemocratic.

Under pressure from the street, the GNC agreed to give way to the formation of a new parliament, although an election date has yet to be set.

Militants have launched near-daily attacks on security forces, particularly in the restive eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the uprising that ended Kadhafi's four-decade rule.

Miitig has vowed to rebuild state institutions, especially the army and police.

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