September 13, 2018 / 3:00 PM / 11 days ago

France pushes year-end vote for Libya despite doubts in Italy, Tripoli

PARIS (Reuters) - France stuck to its position pushing for elections in Libya by the end of the year on Thursday, a day after Italy and the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli sowed doubts on the electoral calendar, citing a worsening security situation.

FILE PHOTO: Ambulances and security vehicles are seen near the headquarters of Libyan state oil firm National Oil Corporation (NOC) after three masked persons attacked it in Tripoli, Libya September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hani Amara/File Photo

Former colonial power Italy and France have been competing for influence in war-torn Libya, rich in oil and gas and a staging post for people smugglers who have launched tens of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean sea towards Europe in past years.

Libya splintered following the 2011 NATO-backed revolt that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, and since 2014 has been divided between competing political and military groups based in Tripoli and the east.

Seeking to end the turmoil, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a conference in May where rival Libyan factions agreed to work with the United Nations for a national election by Dec. 10.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Fayez Seraj, who had agreed to the roadmap, said conditions in his country were too unstable to hold elections.

Those comments were echoed by Italy’s Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi who was quoted by state news agency as saying the date should be reconsidered.

“We are in disagreement with the position of the French government, which, as was decided in Paris, says the elections in Libya must be held on December 10,” he said.

In response to those doubts, France’s foreign ministry said it was convinced of the need for a political solution based on the Paris agreements.

“France will continue with its partners to support the efforts of the Libyan authorities and the United Nations to ensure the continuation of the political process and in particular the conditions for holding elections by the end of the year,” spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.

Italy has close relations with the authorities in Tripoli and is the only Western country to have reopened its embassy in the Libyan capital, home to Serraj’s U.N.-brokered transitional government.

France is seen as closer to military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is aligned with a rival government based in the east.

Reporting by John Irish; editing by David Evans

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