Violence still problem despite Libya's peaceful power handover

TRIPOLI Wed Aug 8, 2012 10:31am EDT

Members of the military and bystanders look at debris after a car bomb exploded near the offices of the military police in Tripoli August 4, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Members of the military and bystanders look at debris after a car bomb exploded near the offices of the military police in Tripoli August 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Getting a grip on security in an often anarchic post-Gaddafi Libya will be the priority for the country's new ruling assembly when it starts life on Wednesday, the deputy prime minister says.

The National Transitional Council, political arm of the opposition forces that toppled Gaddafi a year ago, will hand over power to a national assembly elected in July in a late night ceremony.

It will be the first peaceful transition of power in Libya's modern history but is overshadowed by several violent incidents in the past week that have shown the country's precarious stability.

These include a car bomb in the capital Tripoli near the offices of the military police and an explosion at the empty former military intelligence offices in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the revolt against Gaddafi.

"Clearly they worry us but at the same time we are investigating them. We are trying to find out who is behind this," Deputy Prime Minister Abu Shagour told Reuters.

"We were able to improve security from when we started but there still a way to go. Security is top of the agenda for whoever will be coming into power."

The interim government which took over after Gaddafi's overthrow successfully led Libya to the elections. But it has struggled to impose its authority on a myriad of armed groups, mostly militias who took part in the uprising, who refuse to lay down their weapons. Disarming them remains a challenge.

On Sunday, security forces killed three armed men suspected of being behind seven failed bomb plots. That same day, the International Committee of the Red Cross suspended its work in Benghazi and the port city of Misrata after one of its compounds was attacked with grenades and rockets.

This followed the kidnapping of seven Iranian aid workers by armed men in Benghazi on July 31.

Still, Abu Shagour expressed optimism that the problems could be overcome.

"I don't think it is going to get worse, I think things will get better as we move on. Our security forces are getting better," Abu Shagour said.

"I think the view from outside of Libya about the security unfortunately is not right. If you compare us with other countries like Iraq and others, for security there is no comparison - our security is far, far better."

The national assembly will take power in a night ceremony on Wednesday. The 200-member congress will name a new prime minister who will pick his government, pass laws and steer Libya to full parliamentary elections after a new constitution is drafted next year.

As it prepares its exit, the interim government is working on several recommendations for Libya's new leaders, Abu Shagour said, such as plans for enforcing weapon permits.

A new government is not expected for a few weeks. After NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil passes the reins to the oldest member of assembly, Mohammed Ali Salim, it will have to pick a chairman. The NTC will then be dissolved.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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