Libyan leaders reshape Cabinet
BENGHAZI, Libya - Libya’s transitional leaders named a new Cabinet yesterday and vowed to step down after the country is secured, a move designed to show that the North African nation is moving on even though fighting persists and Moammar Khadafy remains at large.
The announcement was made jointly by the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and de facto Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril in a news conference after weeks of political infighting and delays over the formation of a new government.
In the end, the Cabinet lineup did not contain many changes, prompting many Libyans to question why it took so long, coming about six weeks after revolutionary forces seized the capital, Tripoli, and forced Khadafy into hiding.
Revolutionary fighters yesterday launched what their commanders said was their final assault on Surt, Khadafy’s hometown and one of the last remaining areas of loyalist resistance. They directed rocket and tank fire toward the city center, ending a two-day slowdown in the fighting as civilians fled.
Jibril, who graduated from and taught strategic planning at the University of Pittsburgh for several years, remains in his position but also takes over as foreign minister, meaning his current deputy and Foreign Minister Ali al-Issawi is out. Ali al-Tarhouni, a US-educated economist, will continue acting as oil minister until the National Oil Co. is ready to take over.
The new leaders said they would remain in place until the country is secured and liberation is declared, then a new transitional government would be formed within a month.
“We have signed a pledge to the Libyan people that we will not be part of the future government not in any way,’’ Abdul-Jalil said to applause.
The pledge was intended to reassure the public they will not suffer under another dictatorship.
Revolutionary forces are still battling loyalists of Khadafy on two major fronts - Surt and Bani Walid - as well as pockets deep in the southern desert. But Jibril said he had asked that liberation be declared after Surt is captured because that would ensure that all sea, land and air entry ports are secure.
He acknowledged fighting would continue in Bani Walid, where the terrain and the harboring of suspected high-level regime figures - possibly including Khadafy’s son Seif al-Islam - has led to a weeks-long standoff. But he said it was important to declare victory and begin rebuilding the country.
“Bani Walid doesn’t have any international exits,’’ Jibril said. “And it is very important to begin and speed up the transitional process and begin the democratic stage.’’
The NTC has promised to hold elections eight months after the end of fighting.
A new minister for Libyans killed and wounded was also named. He is Abdel-Rahman al-Keissah, described as a lawyer who was wounded in the fighting. Hamza Abu Fas will replace Sheik Salem al-Sheiki as the minister of religious affairs.
When asked if members of the Cabinet might remain in their posts after liberation, Jibril said that would be up to the future leadership and would depend on their performance.