Libya congress approves new government amid protests

TRIPOLI Wed Oct 31, 2012 5:33pm EDT

Members of the Libyan security forces stand guard close to the headquarters of the General National Congress in Tripoli October 31, 2012. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Members of the Libyan security forces stand guard close to the headquarters of the General National Congress in Tripoli October 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ismail Zitouny

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's national assembly approved new Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's proposed government on Wednesday after rejecting his predecessor's line-up, but members still queried the suitability of several nominations.

In a reminder of the volatility still plaguing Libya a year after Muammar Gaddafi's ouster, the General National Congress cut its session short soon after the vote as security forces fended off protesters outside.

The assembly had met on Tuesday to vote but its session was postponed after protesters, opposed to some of the ministerial nominations, stormed the building. Some protesters said some of the nominees had past links with the Gaddafi regime.

In a televised vote, 105 members were in favor of Zeidan's government drawn from liberal and Islamist parties. The congress is made up of 200 members but only 132 were present.

Zeidan needed approval from congress to take office. His transitional government will focus on restoring security in the oil-producing country where many militias have yet to disarm since Gaddafi's overthrow.

"There are some objections about some of the ministries but we don't want to obstruct the government taking up its job," congress spokesman Omar Hmaidan told a news conference.

Asked which ministries had been called into question, he said: "I think interior, religious affairs and also oil, local government and foreign affairs."

Some congress members said the ministers called into question would be referred to its integrity committee.

"Even though I have some reservations, I personally hope the government will succeed because it was chosen in a democratic way," congress member Mohammed Tommy said.

Some ministers come from the liberal National Forces Alliance and the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Justice and Construction Party, the two biggest parties in congress. Others are independents.

Aware of Libya's sharp regional tensions, Zeidan said he had tried to strike a geographic balance among his 27 ministers.

He nominated Ali Aujali, Libya's ambassador to the United States, as foreign minister; Mohammed al-Barghathi, who served in the Libyan air force, as defense minister; and Abdelbari al-Arusi, from the western town Zawiyah, as oil minister.

As congress met amid tight security, Libyan security forces briefly fired shots in the air to disperse protesters outside the building, a Reuters witness said.

On Tuesday about 100 people charged into the congress meeting hall as it voted on Zeidan's line-up. In chaotic televised scenes, congress members negotiated with the protesters to leave before the session was suspended.

"We delayed our vote yesterday because we did not want to be put under pressure," Hmaidan said.

A former diplomat who defected in the 1980s to become an outspoken Gaddafi critic, Zeidan will govern the country while the congress, elected in July, passes laws and helps draft a new constitution to be put to a national referendum next year.

Congress elected Zeidan prime minister this month after his predecessor, Mustafa Abushagur, lost a confidence vote on his choice of ministers.

(Additional reporting by Taha Zargoun, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Reuters Television; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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