Libya's recognized parliament rejects U.N.-backed unity government

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libya’s internationally recognized parliament voted on Monday to reject a unity government proposed under a United Nations-backed plan to resolve the country’s political crisis and armed conflict.

Protest against the U.N. to draft agreement talks headed by the Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon in Benghazi, September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Though not a surprise, the rejection was a setback in efforts to heal Libya’s deep divides. Of 104 members who attended the session in the eastern city of Tobruk, 89 voted against an administration nominated last week, demanding a new proposal within 10 days.

Since 2014, Libya has had two competing parliaments and governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the east. Both are backed by loose alliances of armed groups and former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Western powers hope a unity government will deliver stability and be able to tackle a growing threat from Islamic State militants.

One member of the Tobruk parliament, Mohamed al-Abani, said the proposed administration did not represent the interests of the Libyan people but had been formed “according to the demands of militia leaders”.

Lawmakers from the parliament, known as the House of Representatives, also said the proposed 32-member government was rejected because it included too many posts. They called on the Tunis-based Presidential Council to put forward a shorter list of ministers.

One of those to vote against the unity government, Omar Tantoush, said he did so because it did not “respond to current challenges”.

“They did not use the correct criteria in choosing ministers and the size of the government, especially now that the economy is collapsing in Libya,” he said.

In a separate vote, 97 members of the Tobruk parliament backed the U.N.-mediated agreement that sets out a political transition for Libya and under which the Presidential Council operates. They rejected a clause, however, that transfers power over military appointments to the new government.

U.N. Libya envoy Martin Kobler welcomed the “endorsement in principle” of the political agreement, while taking note of the objection to the article covering senior military and security posts.

“We will continue consultations with all parties to find consensual solution to all outstanding issues,” he said in a statement.

The armed forces allied to the eastern government are led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally. He has also fought Islamist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi and has become one of Libya’s most divisive figures, enjoying strong support in the east but despised by forces allied to the government in Tripoli.

Representatives from both sides of Libya’s political divide signed the U.N.-backed plan in Morocco in December, but the agreement has faced stiff opposition from many members of the two parliaments and from factions on the ground.

Two of the Presidential Council’s nine members also refused to put their names to the proposed government when it was announced after a 48-hour delay last week.

Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Dominic Evans and Grant McCool