Libyan PM urges international community to back UN mandate

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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The head of Libya's U.N.-backed government urged on Saturday the international community to take a firm stance against those defying a 2015 political agreement stipulating a U.N. mandate that expired earlier this month.

The remarks by Prime Minister Fayez Serraj came during a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano in the capital, Tripoli, where the U.N.-backed government is based. Alfano's visit comes days after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met with Serraj and later with military strongman Khalifa Hifter in the eastern city of Benghazi. Hifter is commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army that is loyal to the House of Representatives, the rival of Serraj's government.

Serraj and Alfano discussed preparations for elections slated for next year, including ratifying an electoral law and registering voters. The government had previously announced on several occasions that the processes were underway without specifying dates. Serraj said elections in 2018 would pave the way for a peaceful resolution to the country's political crisis.

The U.N.-backed government's mandate expired on Dec. 17. Thousands of Hifter's supporters rallied in several cities on the day, calling on him to lead the country. Hifter had hinted in an earlier televised speech that he might step up to fill the political void but didn't clearly state whether he would run for president if a vote is held next year. It's also not clear whether Serraj will hold the elections. In his address, Hifter said that all the bodies resulting from the agreement "lost their legitimacy" upon its expiry. Serraj insists the U.N. mandate remains in effect until a new one is introduced.

The U.N. envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, earlier this month urged all parties to "refrain from any actions that could undermine the political process." Salame had proposed an action plan for Libya in September meant to amend the political agreement and pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections, as well as a vote on a new constitution.

In October, the U.N. Security Council endorsed the plan and reaffirmed that the 2015 agreement "remains the only viable framework" to bring the country's political crisis to an end and slammed any attempt to undermine it as "unacceptable."

Hifter's Libyan National Army, including Gadhafi-era officers, has been fighting with Islamic militants in the east with the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Libya descended into chaos following a 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi. The country is now split between rival governments, each backed by militias in the east and the west. It has also become a main embarkation point for the perilous route to Europe for migrants fleeing poverty and civil war in Africa and elsewhere in the region.

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