Libyan Leader Warns Foreign Meddling Poses Risk to Landmark Vote
(Bloomberg) -- Libya’s prime minister vowed a landmark December presidential election would go ahead even as foreign meddling poses obstacles to the vote.
Holding the ballot on Dec. 24, which could end a decade of turmoil in the OPEC member, is his administration’s most important task, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said. It would cap a United Nations-led process to reconcile rivals who emerged in the chaotic years following a 2011 uprising that toppled leader Moammar Qaddafi.
But Libya’s conflict also morphed into a proxy war involving Russian mercenaries and other foreign fighters. A cease-fire is holding as outside powers look to the election as the culmination of their efforts.
“International interventions, as well as the interventions of military systems, may create obstacles to the holding of elections, despite all countries officially” supporting the vote, Dbeibah said Wednesday in an interview in Tripoli. Nevertheless, he said, Libya would not return to war.
One intervention is supposedly being plotted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He’s said to be intent on challenging the U.S. and Europe, as well as Turkey, by elevating into office the ex-dictator’s son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who’s emerged from years of seclusion.
The Kremlin’s pressuring Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who controls much of the oil-rich east, to support the push, according to people in Moscow aware of the efforts. The ploy, if successful, would boost Russia’s clout in the Middle East after Putin propped up Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad.
Saif al-Islam’s “a Libyan citizen and the son of an important tribe in Libya, and I have no objection to the candidacy of any citizen who has no legal issues,” said Dbeibah, chosen by delegates at a February UN forum.
Election rules not yet formalized could in theory bar Qaddafi from running -- he’s wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court -- or make a problem of Haftar’s dual U.S.-Libyan nationality. No candidate has put their name forward.
Dbeibah said he only communicated indirectly with Haftar when his term began to resolve matters including prisoner exchanges, but Haftar’s recent speeches haven’t been encouraging. The premier doesn’t object to meeting Haftar if he “recognizes me as prime minister and defense minister,” he said.
The premier cited progress toward agreeing the exit of mercenaries. “I won’t say they’ll be out in a month or two,” but they’ll eventually leave, he said, describing a “very significant decrease” in weaponry brought into Libya.
Conflict has stunted efforts to revive the economy, stabilize oil production and provide basic services. Libya pumped 1.17 million barrels a day in July, down from 1.6 million barrels before the 2011 revolution.
Libya’s oil minister says sustaining output might be difficult unless lawmakers pass a long-delayed budget. The draft plan allocates 25% of development spending to the National Oil Corp., about 3 billion dinars ($661 million).
Libya will present projects for investment at two oil and gas conferences at year-end, one in Texas, the other in Tripoli, Dbeibah added.
Italy’s Eni SpA, TotalEnergies SE of France and Spain’s Repsol SA have stakes in Libyan oil projects. Russian energy company Gazprom PJSC is also in Libya.
Dbeibah cited “offers from Eni, which is ready to invest $10 billion in various oil fields, as well as Total that has an investment budget in Libya of more than $2 billion.”
The premier said he hasn’t yet looked into changing the NOC’s head, Mustafa Sanalla, as the oil minister suggested.
“It may or may not change -- everything is possible,” Dbeibah said. There will be personnel “changes, but not in the form the minister requested.”
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