Libyan militias extend ultimatum to parliament

Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Two powerful militias that earlier demanded that Libya's interim parliament step down or face arrest now say the country's political factions have 72 hours to resolve their crisis, while the United Nations urged Wednesday that the deadlock be resolved by holding new elections.

The demands issued Tuesday by the Al-Qaaqaa and al-Sawaaq militias, which some politicians likened to an attempted coup, brought the restive North African country's long-running political showdown to a head. Parliament is split between Islamist and non-Islamist blocs. Its mandate was to have expired this month, but the Islamists led a motion to extend its mandate by another year.

Under street protesters' pressure, the parliament voted to hold early elections in the spring. But many are angry that parliament, widely viewed as a failed institution, should hold power until then.

The two militias at first said that parliament had until 9 p.m. Tuesday to hand over power or be arrested as "usurpers," but later said they had extended their deadline to Friday after meeting with U.N. special representative Tarek Mitri. Their second ultimatum said all parties should reach a "final and radical solution" to the crisis, but did not spell out any consequences if they failed to do so.

Mitri says he met with the commanders of the two militias and appealed to them to "give a chance to political dialogue about holding general elections at the earliest possible" opportunity. He warned that the use of force "threatens the stability of Libya and the political process."

The country's embattled Prime Minister Ali Zidan told reporters late Tuesday that he held meetings with the rival militias and UN envoy in an attempt to reach a "truce" and defuse the crisis.

"We reject a military coup, we reject the use of force to push Libyan people to take any action," he said. He said the only way forward is through ballot boxes and the peaceful transition of power through elections.

The interim parliament, elected in 2012, was to guide a transition that would see a constitution drafted then new elections before Feb. 7. Libya is preparing to elect a 60-member constitutional panel to draft the charter on Thursday.

The crisis comes as Libyans mark the third anniversary of the Feb. 17, 2011, start of the uprising that toppled the 42-year-old dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi.

Gadhafi came to power in a bloodless coup in 1969. He claimed he was instituting direct rule by the people through his ideological tract known as the Green Book, but ultimately put all powers in his hands.

As a result, after rebel forces toppled Gadhafi, the country was left bereft of functioning institutions. Successive governments relied on militias made up largely of ex-rebels to impose order. But those militias have allied with parliamentary blocs, while a series of assassinations and abductions mostly blamed on militias have further destabilized the country.

Libya's now split spans regional, ideological and ethnic divides. Al-Qaaqaa and al-Sawaaq, from the western Libyan town of Zintan, back the non-Islamist National Forces Alliance in parliament. Other militias, including those from the port city of Misrata, are allied with the Muslim Brotherhood behind the Islamist bloc.

The National Forces Alliance issued a statement distancing itself from the militias, saying it has no armed wing.

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