International powers quietly shelve December plan for Libya election

Armed forces allied to internationally recognized government fight with an armed group in Tripoli. (Reuters/File)
Updated 07 November 2018
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International powers quietly shelve December plan for Libya election

  • Shelving the plans for presidential and parliamentary elections is the latest setback for Western powers that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi
  • Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes

TUNIS, CAIRO: The UN and Western powers have given up hope that Libya will hold elections in the immediate future, focusing on reconciliation first among rival factions locked in a cycle of conflict, diplomats and other sources said.

In May, France had persuaded major players in the North African country to verbally agree to elections on Dec. 10 as a way of ending repeated rounds of bloodshed between competing factions that emerged after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

But weeks of fighting between rival militias in the capital Tripoli and deadlock between rump parliaments in Tripoli and th¡e east has made that goal unrealistic, Western officials argue.

Shelving the plans for presidential and parliamentary elections is the latest setback for Western powers that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi seven years ago before stepping back and seeing hopes for a democratic transition crumble.

Instead of pushing for a vote as a short-term goal, UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame will focus in a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday on staging a national conference next year and fixing the economy, diplomats said.

The conference would aim to forge consensus in a country divided between hundreds of armed groups controlling mostly minimal territory, towns, tribes and regions. 

Libya has two governments, a UN-backed administration in the capital and a largely powerless eastern version aligned with influential veteran commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control much of the east. Salame will also push again for economic reforms to end a system benefiting armed groups that have access to cheap dollars due to their power over banks.

There was no immediate comment from the Tripoli-based government or the eastern-based Parliament. Diplomats say delayed reforms introduced in Tripoli in September, including a fee on purchases of foreign currency, can only partially ease Libya’s economic woes as long as the central bank remains divided and predatory factions retain their positions.

The reforms have so far done little to improve conditions for ordinary Libyans hit by steep inflation and a cash crisis linked to the fall of the dinar on the black market.

For the militias, the sources said Salame would outline a new “security arrangement” for Tripoli aimed at depriving them of control of key sites and integrating their members into regular forces —  something that has proved elusive in the past.

Salame is the sixth UN special envoy for Libya since 2011.

Talks to unify rival camps launched in September 2017, shortly after Salame took up his post, ground to a halt after one month with Haftar’s role a key sticking point. Many in western Libya oppose him, fearing he could use the position to seize power.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army says it is committed to the election process, in which Haftar himself is a possible candidate.

UN efforts to stabilize Libya have long been undercut by the divergent agendas of foreign powers.

The international community formally backs the transitional government in Tripoli, but Egypt and the UAE have lent Haftar support and European states including France courted the commander as his power grew.

France led the push for elections, believing it could benefit from helping fix the Libya conflict, before realizing the country was not ready for a vote, diplomats say.

“We have to accelerate the process, which is what Salame will say and push on with going to the ballot box,” a French official said. “The calendar on elections will slip, but that’s not a problem.”

France has vied for influence with Italy, which has sought to protect its oil and gas interests and stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean by building ties in Tripoli, where it is the only Western country to fully reopen an embassy.

Italy is hosting a conference in Palermo next week, where Salame’s roadmap will be discussed.

In recent weeks, Western powers and the UN have quietly stopped talking about the election in December, without formally declaring it dead.

“The idea is now that Salame will talk about a national conference and economic reforms so people hope the Dec. 10 date will quietly pass away,” said one source familiar with UN plans.

Elections remain the goal, but progress on the ground toward better governance and security were needed in place of “extended additional thinking sessions,” said a senior US administration official.

“I think pinning everything on a single date for an election has not proved a successful strategy,” the official said.

“We are personally less vested in a date than the quality of the election, and I do think we have some work to do.” 


Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

  • EU foreign ministers said they are suspending talks with Turkey over air transport agreement
  • They backed EU’s proposal to decrease financial assistance to Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Speaking at a news conference in Macedonia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the sanctions aimed to “appease” Cyprus and were of “no importance.”
“The EU needs us concerning the migration issue or other issues,” he said. “They will come to us and hold contacts; there is no escaping that.”
“They know that the decisions they took cannot be applied,” he said. “They were forced to take the worthless decisions under pressure from the Greek Cypriots and Greece.”
Cavusoglu added: “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, will with send a fourth.”
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots and accused the 28-nation bloc of “prejudice and bias.”
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. A third Turkish exploration ship is also in the area. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometers off the island’s west coast.