Libya’s interim government re-opens Mediterranean highway

CAIRO (AP) – Libya’s interim authorities re-opened on Sunday the Mediterranean coastal highway linking the country’s long-divided eastern and western cities, in the latest bid to reunite the territories after years of civil war.

The announcement comes three days ahead of an international conference on Libya that will be hosted by Germany and the United Nations (UN) in Berlin.

“I am so delighted to participate in the opening of this essential lifeline linking the east of our country to its west,” Libyan Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah told a crowd that gathered as bulldozers were towing away rocks and sand dunes blocking the road.

The coastal highway has been closed since April 2019 after east-based military commander Khalifa Hifter launched a military offensive to wrest the capital, Tripoli, from the United Nation (UN)-recognised government. Its re-opening was a long-held demand by the UN to enable the safe passage of civilians and goods.

The United States’ (US) embassy in Libya hailed the move, saying in a tweet it was “paving the path for Libyans to have full control over their own affairs”.

Dbeibah was elected as interim prime minister, along with a four-member presidential council, by Libyan delegates at a UN-sponsored conference in February. They are meant to shepherd the country to nationwide elections late this year.

In March, the transitional government announced the resumption of flights between eastern Benghazi and western Misrata after seven years of suspension. Both cities have been key strongholds of Libya’s warring factions.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Afterwards, the oil-rich country was long divided between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.