Protesters storm Libya congress after PM presents government

TRIPOLI Tue Oct 30, 2012 7:04pm GMT

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Protesters stormed Libya's national assembly on Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of a vote on a proposed coalition government named by the country's new prime minister just hours earlier.

Fewer than 100 people, made up of civilians and former rebel fighters, charged into the meeting hall of the General National Congress as it voted on Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's cabinet line-up, which was drawn from liberal and Islamist parties.

In chaotic televised scenes, congress members negotiated with the protesters, unhappy with some of the nominations, to leave. Voting then briefly resumed before being interrupted a second time, leading congress leader Mohammed Magarief to announce the session was postponed to Wednesday.

"Let it be known to all Libyans and to the whole world in what conditions we are working in," Magarief said.

For Zeidan to take office, the congress has to approve his transitional government, which will focus on restoring security in the oil-producing country where many militias have yet to disarm since Gaddafi's overthrow last year.

Zeidan's transitional government would replace an interim administration appointed in November after Gaddafi's death.

Some ministers come from the liberal National Forces Alliance or the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Justice and Construction Party, the two biggest parties in the 200-member congress. Others are independents.

Aware of Libya's sharp regional tensions, Zeidan said he had tried to strike a geographic balance among his 27 ministers.

"No region has been favoured over any other," he told congress earlier on Tuesday. "We don't want to repeat mistakes or provoke the street."

Congress elected Zeidan prime minister this month after his predecessor, Mustafa Abushagur, lost a confidence vote on his choice of ministers, criticised inside and outside the assembly.

A former career diplomat who defected in the 1980s to become an outspoken Gaddafi critic, Zeidan will govern the country while the congress, elected in July, passes laws and helps draft a new constitution to be put to a national referendum next year.

SECURITY CHALLENGE

Outgoing Defence Minister Osama al-Juwali exposed the scale of the security challenge facing Libya's new rulers when he said on Monday the government had no control over Bani Walid, a former Gaddafi stronghold captured by militia forces supposedly loyal to Tripoli on October 24.

Juwali said he had tried to visit the town, but troops accompanying him had been denied access. This, he said, showed that "the chief of staff has no control over the town, and this might mean armed men won't allow civilians to go back".

Five days earlier, the army chief of staff had announced the end of military operations in Bani Walid, one of the last towns to fall to rebels in last year's war, but which some militias had accused of still sheltering Gaddafi supporters.

Zeidan nominated Ali Aujali, Libya's ambassador to the United States, as foreign minister; Mohammed al-Barghathi, who served in the Libyan air force, as defence minister; and Abdelbari al-Arusi as oil minister.

Libyan oil industry sources said Arusi, in his 50s and from the western town of Zawiyah, studied chemical engineering and is said to have worked in several Libyan oil companies. He has a Masters and PhD from Britain.

Ashur Shuwail, nominated interior minister, was chief of police in Benghazi last year. Alikilani al-Jazi, with a background in accounting, banking and finance, was proposed as finance minister. Salah Marghani was named justice minister.

Zeidan said his nominees for the defence, interior, justice, foreign affairs, international cooperation and finance portfolios were independents. The list included two women to head the social affairs and tourism ministries.

(Additional reporting by Taha Zargoun; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Jason Webb)

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