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Libya bans Gadhafi-era officials from state posts

Monday - 5/6/2013, 1:50am  ET

FILE - In this March 13, 2013 file photo, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington. Libya's parliament passed a law on Sunday, May 5, 2013, that bans officials who held senior positions under ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi from holding high-level government posts, a move that could disqualify much of the country's political elite from office including Prime Minister Ali Zidan, who served as a diplomat under Gadhafi. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- Under pressure from armed militias, Libya's parliament passed a sweeping law Sunday that bans anyone who served as a senior official under Moammar Gadhafi during his 42 year-long rule from working in government.

The Political Isolation Law could lead to the dismissal of many current leaders, some of whom had defected to the rebel side during the country's 2011 civil war or had been elected to office since Gadhafi's ouster and killing. The move is likely to further stall the country's already rocky transition to democracy by ousting elected lawmakers.

It injects a new dose of uncertainty into Libyan politics during a still-fragile transition. Liberals say it will give a boost to Islamists, who performed poorly in recent elections compared to their counterparts in other Arab states, although Islamists said they could also be affected by the ban.

The law was partially driven by the unpopularity of Libya's current crop of politicians among many of the still-powerful former rebels who toppled Gadhafi, and others who say little has improved since. Backers of the law say it is necessary to complete the revolution.

But critics say that the law was passed at gunpoint. Militias had surrounded several government buildings in Tripoli last week barring officials from work. Their vehicles mounted with rocket-propelled grenades kept watch on the street during the vote.

Most of the militias have roots in the rebel groups that fought Gadhafi, but their numbers have mushroomed in the two years since his fall. Many of the armed groups have been accused of rights abuses, but the government continues to rely on them to keep order in the absence of a strong police or military. Many militiamen say they mostly want jobs and steady pay.

The General National Congress, Libya's elected parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the law. Out of 200 lawmakers, 169 attended the vote.

Deputy head of parliament Juma Attiga, who oversaw the vote, told the TV station Libya Ahrar that militias had pressured parliament to vote in favor of the law, but that he had planned to vote yes in any case. He may be affected since he served as head of a governmental rights group under Gadhafi.

The law highlights the government's inability to rein in armed groups and exposes the many obstacles the North African nation faces in rebuilding its weak central government.

It comes at a time when Islamists are in a position of strength following the Arab Spring uprisings that saw Libya's two neighbors -- Tunisia and Egypt -- oust longtime autocrats from power. As is the case in all three nations, Islamists and liberals are in a power tussle for control over the direction of their countries.

But unlike Egypt and Tunisia, liberals won big in Libya's first free elections last year. Former rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril's liberal bloc took nearly half of the seats allocated for party lists. The body has a significant numbers of independents allied with Islamist parties.

Legislators told The Associated Press that the law states that parliamentarians who lose their post will be replaced by either the next name on the party list or by the independent candidate who came in second in a district. This could benefit many Islamists, who trailed in the elections and came in second in many districts.

Lawmaker Tawfiq al-Shaybi, who is with Jibril's bloc, told Libya Ahrar TV that the country's Muslim Brotherhood party was pushing the law "in favor of themselves rather that in favor of what is best for the country."

Brotherhood lawmaker Majda al-Falah denied that Islamists passed the law to target their opponents.

"The proof of this is that 164 (parliamentarians) voted for the law and not all are Islamists, though among them are members of our party," she told The Associated Press. The law could also affect some Brotherhood figures who entered into reconciliation talks with Gadhafi's regime years ago, she said.

Several drafts of the bill were debated over the past several months, and it was not immediately clear how the final draft will be applied. Those who it does affect will be banned from government positions for 10 years.

Sunday's session of parliament, carried live on TV, was heated -- some lawmakers demanded to debate articles, but Attiga cut them off insisting the session was just for voting.

Zeinab al-Targi, another member of Jibril's coalition in parliament, said the law essentially criminalizes people by excluding them from political life, even if they sided with the opposition that ousted Gadhafi.

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