UN may push back Libya election conference

In this file photo, Smoke rises from the site of the headquarters of Libya's foreign ministry after suicide attackers hit in Tripoli, Libya December 25, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 31 January 2019
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UN may push back Libya election conference

  • The national meeting is central to a UN and Western roadmap for a vote in Libya as a way out of its eight-year war since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi
  • Libya splintered following the NATO-backed revolt against Gaddafi and has since 2014 been divided between competing political and armed groups based in Tripoli and the east

TUNIS/BENGHAZI: The United Nations is likely to delay a conference intended to prepare Libya for elections this year until there is more support from rival leaders, sources familiar with the plans said.
The national meeting is central to a UN and Western roadmap for a vote in Libya as a way out of its eight-year war since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
But big players and their allied armed groups wield considerable power under the status quo, and there is mistrust between rival governments and parliaments.
Libya splintered following the NATO-backed revolt against Gaddafi and has since 2014 been divided between competing political and armed groups based in Tripoli and the east.
More delay in the UN-sponsored conference, where Libyans from all walks of society are supposed to decide details of their elections such as the presidential or parliamentary system, would also probably push back an actual vote.
Under a French plan, Libya was meant to hold elections last Dec. 10, but that was shelved due to divisions among rival leaders and a spike in violence in the capital Tripoli.
In a new push, UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame wanted a conference in "the first weeks of 2019" with potential polls by June. But momentum for that has been lost due to resistance from major parties backing the parallel governments in Tripoli and the east who benefit from access to oil revenues and jobs for armed groups in the absence of police.
Sources familiar with the UN plans told Reuters the conference could still happen by the end of February, but a delay until at least March looked more likely.
"Salame won't announce a venue and date ahead until he thinks there is enough support from all sides," one source said.
The UN mission in Libya said it was seeking a successful meeting but no date was set yet. "We plan for the conference to happen as soon as possible," it said in a statement to Reuters.
Diplomats say the conference is a "last joker" in the pack for Salame who has toiled since September 2017 for elections.
Western nations hope ordinary Libyans will pressure armed groups into a peaceful solution
But in eastern Libya, some worry the forum may give a platform to extremists and other opponents defeated by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar.
Some 20 lawmakers in the eastern-based parliament last week proposed to ban the Muslim Brotherhood. That would make it difficult to talk to Khaled Mishri, head of a rival parliament in Tripoli who is close to the Brotherhood.
"I personally think the conference is a good idea but it will be hard to achieve results," said eastern lawmaker Hamd Bazaq.
Diplomats fear a recent spat between Salame and the LNA might further complicate preparing the conference.


Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

Updated 17 June 2019
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Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities have removed nearly 30 kilometers of concrete blast walls across Baghdad in the last six months, mostly around the capital’s high-security Green Zone, a senior official told AFP.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, T-walls — thick barriers about six meters tall and one meter wide — have surrounded potential targets of car bombs or other attacks.
When premier Adel Abdel Mahdi came to power last year, he promised to remove barriers, checkpoints and other security measures to make Baghdad easier to navigate.
“Over the last six months, we removed 18,000 T-walls in Baghdad, including 14,000 in the Green Zone alone,” said Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the PM’s top military adviser.
Hundreds of the security checkpoints that contributed to Baghdad’s notorious traffic jams have also been removed.
And according to the Baghdad municipality, 600 streets that had been closed off to public access have been opened in the last six months.
Among them are key routes crossing through Baghdad’s Green Zone, the enclave where government buildings, UN agencies and embassies including the US and UK missions are based.
It was long inaccessible to most Iraqis until an order from Abdel Mahdi last year, and families can now be seen picking their way across its manicured parks for sunset pictures.
Iraq is living a rare period of calm after consecutive decades of violence, which for Baghdad peaked during the sectarian battles from 2006 to 2008.
It was followed, in 2014, by Daesh’s sweep across a third of the country and a three-year battle to oust the militants from their urban strongholds.
The group still wages hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi security forces and government targets, and Baghdad’s authorities are on high alert.
Thousands of the removed T-walls have been placed on Baghdad’s outskirts to prevent infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells, according to Bayati.