Libya's UN-backed unity government gets major boost after Tripoli administration cedes power
Authorities in Libya's capital said on Tuesday that they were ceding power to a UN-backed unity government in a major boost to international efforts to end deep political divisions in the strife-torn country.
The move came nearly a week after UN-backed prime minister-designate Fayez Sarraj arrived with members of his cabinet in the capital by sea, after the Tripoli authorities closed airspace to keep him out.
The international community has pleaded with Libya's warring sides to unite behind the unity government, which it sees as vital to tackling expansion of DAESH and rampant people smuggling in the North African state.
Libya has had two rival governments since mid-2014 - one based in the capital Tripoli and another in the eastern city of Tobruk.
"We inform you that we are stopping our work as an executive power, as the presidency, members of parliament and ministers of the government," the Tripoli based National Salvation government said in a statement.
The statement said the government's Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweil, his deputy premiers and cabinet ministers were all stepping aside.
It said the Tripoli authorities took the decision to quit because they were determined to "preserve the higher interests of the country and prevent bloodshed and divisions."
The Tripoli authorities were "no longer responsible... for what could happen in the future," it added.
UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler hailed the announcement as "good news" but added that "deeds must follow words."
The new Government of National Accord (GNA) emerged from a UN-mediated deal signed in December by figures from both sides of Libya's political divide.
Sarraj, a businessman from Tripoli, and his unity government have not yet received the endorsement of the rival government in Tobruk.
On Tuesday Kobler flew to Tripoli for his first visit since Sarraj's arrival, in another sign of the unity government asserting its authority over the capital.
The UN envoy had himself been prevented from travelling to the capital last month by authorities in charge of the city.
The new government's arrival has raised hopes it will be able to restore some stability in Libya, which has been plagued by chaos since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
'Courage and determination'
Kobler praised the "courage and determination" of the unity government, which has since been operating out of a Tripoli naval base.
"We want to show that the UN and the international community support Prime Minister Sarraj and members of the presidency council," Kobler said.
He said the UN was ready to provide "all the support needed" towards an "immediate and peaceful handover of power" speaking before the announcement by the unrecognised authorities.
The new administration has been broadening its support, winning the backing of the Libyan Investment Authority, the National Oil Corporation and the Central Bank.
Ten coastal cities that were under the control of the Tripoli authorities have also backed the new government.
Mattia Toaldo, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Kobler's visit was a clear signal that the Government of National Accord (GNA) was putting down roots in the capital.
"Kobler's visit to Tripoli, after the many times he was refused landing and access... shows the degree of control of Tripoli by the GNA," Toaldo said.
An adviser to Kobler said the UN envoy discussed with Sarraj "ways to support the action" of the unity government.
Western governments are deeply concerned that Libya's disarray has allowed the DAESH terrorist group to gain an important foothold in the country, but have said a foreign intervention can only take place at the request of a unity government.
Most foreign representations have long since left the capital but Tunisia on Monday said it was reopening diplomatic missions in Tripoli following the new government's arrival.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault praised Tunisia's decision on Tuesday and expressed hope for an eventual return of other embassies.
"The question of the return of our embassies is obviously a relevant one," he told reporters in Paris after talks with German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
"We hope that this situation consolidates itself. If the Libyan government asks us to help it ensure its security, we are available."