African Union warns against rush to elections in Libya

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya Maria Ribeiro (L), UN special representative and head of the UN support mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salame (C) and Libya's unity government Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj attend an event to announce the official launch of the 2018 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan, in Tripoli on January 25, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 30 January 2018

African Union warns against rush to elections in Libya

ADDIS ABABA: Libya should not rush into holding elections as part of UN-led efforts to end years of conflict and division in the North African nation, a senior African Union official said on Monday.
The United Nations has said it wants to help Libya organize national elections by the end of this year as it seeks to break a deadlock between factions based in the east and west of the country.
UN officials including special representative Ghassan Salame have acknowledged complex political, security and legislative challenges to holding such a vote, but say they are encouraged by support for elections among Libyans.
Salame traveled to an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to discuss with regional leaders how to pursue a common approach on Libya.
“We received (Salame), who agreed that this conflict is so complicated and difficult that none of the organizations can solve it by its own,” Smail Chergui, commissioner of the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council, told journalists on the sidelines of the summit.
“So it is a renewed engagement that the two organizations (UN and AU) will work hand in hand to promote reconciliation and prepare the necessary conditions for elections,” Chergui said.
“We (AU member countries) are saying that we should not rush for elections. We have to prepare solid ground for peaceful and credible elections so that the results will be respected by all the parties.”
The UN is trying to revive a stalled peace plan for Libya that was signed in December 2015.
The last time the country held elections, in 2014, the results were disputed and a conflict that developed after a 2011 uprising deepened, resulting in rival governments being established in Tripoli and the east.
This comes as Libya’s eastern-based parliament swore in a new central bank governor on Monday, though the head of a rival assembly in the capital, Tripoli, quickly rejected the move.
The leadership of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) has been divided since 2014, when rival political factions established competing governments in Tripoli and the east of the country.
The eastern-based parliament, or House of Representatives (HOR), set up a parallel central bank in the eastern town of Bayda, voting to dismiss Tripoli governor Sadiq Al-Kabir.
After backing Kabir’s former deputy Ali Salim Al-Hibri to run the bank in Bayda, in December the HOR elected Mohamed Shukri as the new governor.
As he was sworn in on Monday, Shukri spoke of reuniting the CBL and working to emulate the National Oil Corporation (NOC), which has overseen a sharp increase in production despite continuing political divisions.
“Today is the day of unifying the central bank which was divided and that has divided spending and monetary policy,” Shukri told lawmakers. “We suffered from problems that you are aware of and we promise to work in the same context as the National Oil Corporation to achieve development and welfare for the Libyan people.”
However, it remains unclear what role Shukri can play since Kabir has shown no sign of leaving his post and has continued to control oil revenues, the source of nearly all Libya’s income, as well as most spending across the country.
Abdulrahman Swehli who heads Tripoli’s State Council, a rival assembly to the HOR, called the vote “another jump in the air ... that will be doomed to failure.” There was no immediate comment from the central bank in Tripoli.
Shukri’s swearing-in comes as the Libyan dinar has made strong gains on the parallel market, rising to less than five dinars to the dollar in recent days from around nine dinars to the dollar at the end of 2017.
The partial recovery of the dinar may ease some political pressure on Kabir, who has faced growing calls to devalue the dinar from the official rate of 1.3 to the dollar, as the dinar slid in value over the past two years.
Currency traders and economists have attributed the dinar’s gains in part to Kabir launching a program for citizens to claim $500 in foreign currency at the official rate, widening the options for accessing and transferring dollars, and promising to ease restrictions on dollar allowances for importers.

Pressure grows in US for firm response to Iran after Aramco attacks 

Updated 27 min 46 sec ago

Pressure grows in US for firm response to Iran after Aramco attacks 

  • Senator Lindsey Graham urges retaliatory strikes on Iranian oilfields if Tehran continues ‘provocations’
  • UN Secretary General urged for calm and called on both sides to ‘exercise restraint’

WASHINGTON: An American senator has called for Washington to consider an attack on Iranian oil facilities as pressure grows in the US for a firm response to the Saudi Aramco strikes.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the drone attacks on Saturday against the Abqaiq oil processing plant and the Khurais oil field. He also suggested that unlike previous drone and missile attacks on the Kingdom, this one may not have been launched from Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthis. Reports have said that the attack may have originated in Iraq where Iran also holds sway over a large number of powerful militias.

“It is now time for the US to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries if they continue their provocations or increase nuclear enrichment,” Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator close to Donald Trump, said on Twitter.

“Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime’s back.”

Iran on Sunday denied it was behind the attack, but the Yemeni Houthi militia backed by Tehran, claimed they had launched them. 

The White House on Sunday did not rule out a potential meeting between President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, even after Washington accused Iran of being behind drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said the attacks “did not help” prospects for a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the United Nations General Assembly this month but she left open the possibility it could happen.

"You're not helping your case much," by attacking Saudi Arabia, civilian areas and critical infrastructure that affects global energy markets.” Conway told the Fox News Sunday program.

The Trump administration's sanctions and “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program will continue whether or not the two leaders meet, she added.

The US ramped up pressure on Iran last year after trump withdrew from an international pact to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

Washington has reimposed a tough sanctions regime on Tehran, which it accuses of hiding behind the nuclear deal to advance its missiles program and aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, condemnation of the attacks continued from around the world.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack and called upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint to prevent any escalation.

UK foreign minister Dominic Raab said the attack was a “reckless attempt to damage regional security and disrupt global oil supplies.”

The European Union warned of a “real threat to regional security” in the Middle East.

*With Reuters