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U.N. moves to prevent force against Libyan MPs

Libyan rebels agree to extend an ultimatum for lawmakers to reach a solution to the political crisis

Published: Updated:

U.N. Libya envoy Tarek Mitri agreed with Libyan militia groups on Monday to allow political forces 72 hours to solve a dispute over the parliament’s mandate extension, form a new interim cabinet and agree on a plan to hold early presidential elections.

Libya’s powerful former militias from the town of Zintan had given the interim parliament a five-hour ultimatum to dissolve on Tuesday, threatening to kidnap any lawmaker who ignored it.

Commanders from the Zintan militias appeared on television Tuesday afternoon to lay out the terms of the deadline.

“We are giving the (General National) Congress, whose mandate has expired, five hours to hand over power,” they said in a televised statement, indicating a deadline of around 19:30 GMT.

“Any member of Congress who stays (in their post) will be ... a legitimate target and will be arrested, then judged.”

They said the Muslim Brotherhood and “ideological and extremist groups are the origin of the problems in the country,” which has been hit by chronic instability since the 2011 uprising.

Zintan, in the mainly Berber highlands southwest of Tripoli, was one of the bastions of the NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

It is where his son and former heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, is held awaiting trial.

The militias issuing the ultimatum included the al-Qaaqaa and al-Sawaiq brigades, both nominally loyal to the regular army.

Al-Qaaqaa commander Othman Mlekta later told Reuters by phone: “We will act soon and hand over power to the supreme court and form committees to oversee elections.”

“We will work with the people and we're in contact with people in the south and east,” he added.

Mlekta said some of his troops had traveled in armored cars along Tripoli's main airport road on Tuesday, confirming what a witness had told Reuters. Life in Tripoli was otherwise normal.

Al Arabiya correspondent in Tripoli said a number of government ministers staying at the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli were asked to leave following the rebel ultimatum.

The interim parliament responded saying it was facing an impending “coup.”

“The General National Congress strongly denounces this attack against the authorities and categorically rejects the content of this statement, which it deems a coup d’etat,” the assembly’s speaker Nuri Abu Sahmein told MPs.

Earlier this month, the assembly stirred widespread criticism by extending its interim mandate, three years after the overthrow of the 42-year dictatorship of Qaddafi.

[With AFP and Reuters]