France still pushing for year-end vote in Libya


France stuck to its position pushing for elections in Libya by the end of the year shortly after Italy and the UN-backed government in Tripoli cast doubt on the electoral calendar, citing a worsening security situation.

Former colonial power Italy and France are competing for influence in war-torn Libya, rich in oil and gas and a staging post for people smugglers who sent tens of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea to 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 December 10.

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

The comments were echoed by Italy Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi 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, France’s foreign ministry said it was convinced of the need for a political solution based on the Paris agreement.
“France will continue with its partners to support the efforts of the Libyan authorities and the United Nations to ensure 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 authorities in Tripoli and is the only Western country to reopen its embassy in the Libyan capital, home to Serraj’s UN-brokered transitional government.

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