Libyan Minister hopes for support from Biden

TUNIS, TUNISIA (AP) — The powerful Interior Minister of Libya’s United Nations (UN)-backed government, seen as a contender for the post of prime minister, has expressed hopes that bringing stability to his war-torn country would become a top priority for the incoming Biden administration.

He also announced an upcoming major offensive by his Turkey-backed Libyan government forces in the country’s west to go after militants and human smugglers, and invited the United States (US) to assist.

“Our hopes were greatly lifted” by Joe Biden’s election victory, Fathi Bashagha told The Associated Press (AP) earlier this week. “We hope that the new administration has a major role in Libya’s stability and reconciliation.”

Former air force pilot and businessman Bashagha said he would be ready to take on the role of prime minister in a yet-to-be-formed unity government that could follow peace negotiations between Libya’s warring sides.

Oil-rich Libya was plunged into chaos after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and split the country between the UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east. Each side is backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers.

Libya’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha. PHOTO: AP

Since last year, the two sides have been holding UN-led talks to name an interim government before elections later in 2021, but have so far failed to agree on a voting mechanism to do so. Bashagha’s name was floated as a candidate for premier, observers of the talks said.

In October, the warring sides agreed to a cease-fire, which raised expectations of a peaceful resolution, and said that foreign fighters would leave Libya.

Bashagha, who spoke to the AP over the phone from Tripoli, said the withdrawal of foreign forces would be gradual. The rival east-based authorities have been bolstered by Russian mercenaries.

Meanwhile, Turkey sent its own troops, Syrian mercenaries and drones to shore up the Tripoli-based government. Both Russia and Turkey are eyeing contracts worth billions of dollars. The Interior Minister said he told Russia that Libya is prepared to talk business if the mercenaries leave.