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Libya’s Belhaj quits military to enter politics

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Abdelhakim Belhaj, a Libyan Islamist who has commanded the Tripoli military council since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, has resigned from his post to enter politics.

“Last night, I presented my resignation,” he told AFP.

“It is now time to turn to politics,” Belhaj said, adding he would run in upcoming elections for a constituent assembly.

Libya is on track to hold elections for a 200-seat assembly in June.

Belhaj said that his party, Hizb al-Watan, will formally launch next week.

He added that the military council had fulfilled its role and that it was up to state institutions, such as the ministries of defense and interior which have integrated thousands of former rebels, to tackle security.

“It is up to official institutions to take charge of security,” he said.

Belhaj is a former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which led an armed insurgency against Qaddafi during the 1990s.

He is currently suing the British authorities for their alleged role in his 2004 rendition to Libya, where he was tortured.

Belhaj charges that British intelligence officers interrogated him while he was detained in Abu Slim prison.

As part of a reconciliation deal led by Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, Belhaj was released in 2010 along with more than 200 opposition Islamists.

Belhaj shot to fame after the battle for Tripoli in August last year but has kept a low profile in the past few months.

Despite his resignation, the Tripoli military council would not be disbanded, he said.

Libya analyst Peter Cole said Belhaj’s decision to enter politics reflects a broader trend.

“It shows that revolutionaries are beginning to see the military councils as a temporary apparatus and want a permanent voice in Libyan politics,” he said.

In the absence of institutions, local military councils have been central to security in cities across Libya during and after the 2011 revolt.