Libya's interim government reopens Mediterranean highway

AP , Sunday 20 Jun 2021

Its reopening was a long-held demand by the UN to enable the safe passage of civilians and goods

In this Feb. 25, 2021 file photo, Libyan Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya AP

Libya's interim authorities reopened on Sunday the Mediterranean coastal highway linking the country's long-divided eastern and western cities, in the latest bid to reunite the territories after years of civil war.

The announcement comes three days ahead of an international conference on Libya that will be hosted by Germany and the United Nations in Berlin.

``I am so delighted to participate in the opening of this essential lifeline linking the east of our country to its west,'' Libyan Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah told a crowd that gathered as bulldozers were towing away rocks and sand dunes blocking the road.

The coastal highway has been closed since April 2019 after the Libyan National Army's (LNA) commander Khalifa Hafter launched a military offensive to wrest the capital from theTripoli-based government. Its reopening was a long-held demand by the U.N. to enable the safe passage of civilians and goods.

The United States' embassy in Libya hailed the move, saying in a tweet it was ``paving the path for Libyans to have full control over their own affairs.''

Dbeibah was elected as interim prime minister, along with a four-member presidential council, by Libyan delegates at a U.N.-sponsored conference in February. They are meant to shepherd the country to nationwide elections late this year.

In March, the transitional government announced the resumption of flights between eastern Benghazi and western Misrata after seven years of suspension. Both cities have been key strongholds of Libya's warring factions.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Afterwards, the oil-rich country was long divided between a government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country's east.

On Wednesday, an international conference on Libya is set to kick off in Berlin to discuss preparations for the general elections, and withdrawal of foreign forces who were brought in to fight for the opposing sides.

The resumption of traffic on the route stretching along Libya's Mediterranean coastline comes amid tensions between interim authorities and Hafter's troops.

On Saturday, Hafter's LNA announced the deployment of more troops in the largely lawless south, and the closure of the western border with Algeria, saying it was to combat terrorism. In response, Libya's presidential council issued a decree sending their own brigades to the south.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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