The son of deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was officially elected president of Libya’s interim government today as the Mediterranean nation deals with deadly violence, the collapse of oil production and tens of thousands of displaced people.
Gadhafi was elected as the representative of the eastern part of the country during today’s special session of Libya’s constitutional assembly in Tobruk.
Gadhafi immediately called on people to unite.
“The Libyan people is a people of internal rifts, but most of the people are good,” Gadhafi said. “They do not favor or desire violent engagements.”
The new head of the interim government is the latest move in efforts to find a way out of Libya’s chaos that has destabilized the region.
The U.S. and the United Nations backed the formation of the government and said it had the authority to create a new national election, but it has not yet taken any action to launch its own military campaign to restore control in Sirte, where IS militants have controlled the city since last year.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. considers the newly elected government “legitimate and has the authority to represent the Libyan people.”
She said Washington supports the new government and its fight to protect Libyan sovereignty.
“We are continuing to work closely with Libya’s interim government in supporting the democratic transition, which has not only resulted in a number of new elected officials in Libya but also continued support from the International community, including the United States,” Nauert said.
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, at least 4,500 people have been killed since last year, while a separate estimate by the group put the death toll since late 2011 at more than 22,000.
The violence is taking place as the African nation is trying to emerge from its darkest period since Gadhafi’s 42-year authoritarian rule collapsed with his 2011 ouster and killing.
The main source of the violence remains the political and geographical divide between two rival authorities, one in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in the east.
In turn, the country’s parliament, based in Tobruk, has been deeply divided.
Despite that, the Tobruk-based National Transitional Council, which convenes under the new leadership, has the backing of western countries as well as Egypt and the U.S.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to discuss Libya during a meeting in Washington with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on March 11.
Gadhafi, who survived a bloody NATO-backed uprising in 2011, lost power in October 2011 following months of demonstrations against his rule.
His son and one-time heir apparent, Saif al-Islam, is being held by the internationally recognized Libyan government in Zintan, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Tripoli.
His whereabouts remain unknown, even as he remains a prisoner of Zintan, one of the most powerful militias in the country.
The U.N. Security Council welcomed the election of the Tripoli-based government’s president and said it has called for better security for Libyans in need.
U.N. special envoy Ghassan Salame has been working to calm tensions, calling for all sides to come together and abiding by the transition roadmap.
“The doors to further dialogue remain open and his (Gadhafi’s) words ring true as they suggest the need for an inclusive political process with all Libyans at the center of that process,” Salame said in a statement.
The council said it continues to support the new government, calling it an “asset for the people of Libya and for the entire international community.”
The council, however, stopped short of formally recognizing the new government’s authority or authorizing its military campaigns.
Still, both Salame and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have said the council is not a substitute for the U.N.-brokered deal under which the eastern-based government was set up as a rival to the new Tripoli-based administration.
The council also said it “regrets” that some members of the U.N. special envoy’s team evacuated their office in Tripoli on Tuesday citing “the deteriorating security situation.”
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