U.S. backs Libyan legislators over unity government

Legislators from the internationally recognized parliament signed a petition saying they were ‘forcibly prevented’ from holding a confidence vote

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The United States backed Libyan lawmakers’ support for a new national unity government after the country’s internationally recognized parliament said it was prevented from forming one.

“The United States welcomes the February 23 endorsement for the Cabinet of the Government of National Accord, signed by a majority of Libyan House of Representatives members,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Legislators from the internationally recognized parliament -- located in the remote eastern town of Tobruk -- signed a petition on Wednesday saying they were “forcibly prevented” from holding a confidence vote on the line-up of a new unity administration on Tuesday, when parliament lacked a quorum.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that a small hardline minority used physical intimidation and threats to disrupt the February 23 session of the House of Representatives in Tobruk in order to prevent a vote on the cabinet,” Kirby said. “We strongly condemn all attempts to obstruct the Libyan political process.”

A Presidential Council, born of a U.N.-brokered agreement in December between representatives of the country’s rival parliaments, last week put forward a unity government of 18 members.

Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, allowing extremist organizations including ISIS to gain significant ground.

ISIS fighters briefly occupied the heart of a city near the capital Tripoli on Wednesday before they were ousted by fighters loyal to the government.