- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2012

Libya’s first democratically elected leaders now govern the North African nation, after interim rulers handed over power in a ceremony late Wednesday in the capital, Tripoli.

The National Transitional Council, which was set up in the early days of the revolution that started in February 2011, ceded the reins of government to the General National Congress, which was elected last month.

The event marked the first peaceful transfer of power in Libya’s modern history.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council, transferred authority to Mohammed Ali Salim, the oldest member of the assembly. The council was then dissolved.

The 200-member General National Congress elected Mohamed Yousef Magariaf as its president in a late-night vote Thursday.

Mr. Magariaf, a longtime critic of the Gadhafi regime, quit his post as Libya’s ambassador to India in 1980. He leads the National Front party, which was known as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya during the Gadhafi era. The party won three seats in the July election.

The Congress will select a prime minister within 30 days. The new prime minister will then pick a Cabinet.

It was not clear whether the Congress would retain an existing panel that has been tasked with drafting a constitution or appoint a new one.

Parliamentary elections are expected to be held next year after a new constitution is place.

A liberal coalition led by Mahmoud Jibril, who served as the rebels’ prime minister during the uprising, won 39 of the 80 party seats in the Congress. The Justice and Construction Party, launched by Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, won 17. Independent candidates hold the remaining 120 seats.

Mr. Jibril’s National Forces Alliance Party and the Islamists’ Justice and Construction Party have been wooing the independents in a bid to build a ruling majority.

Cooperation between the various political players will be key, as a two-thirds majority is required to avoid parliamentary gridlock.

The National Transitional Council and the interim government have grappled unsuccessfully to bring peace to the country.

On Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross suspended its work in Benghazi, Libya’s largest eastern city, and Misrata, a western city on the Mediterranean coast.

The decision was taken after unknown assailants attacked a Red Cross residence in Misrata with rockets and grenades. It was the fifth time in less than three months that the Red Cross had been attacked in the two cities.

In remarks Wednesday, Mr. Abdul Jalil acknowledged the council’s failure to restore security but said the council had led in “exceptional times.”

Mr. Abdul Jalil, who served as justice minister in dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, defected in the early days of the revolution.

The newly elected representatives face the challenge not only of restoring security but also uniting tribes and building infrastructure ravaged by the revolution and years of neglect.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton congratulated the Libyan people on the peaceful transfer of power.

“Less than one year after an entrenched, brutal dictatorship, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in their history,” she said.

Gadhafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, was killed by revolutionary militias on Oct. 20 in his hometown of Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast about 230 miles east of Tripoli.

Mrs. Clinton said the new parliament has “important work ahead of it as it faces the challenges of building democratic institutions and ensuring the drafting of a new constitution through a transparent process, protecting the universal rights of all Libyans, promoting accountable and honest government, and establishing security throughout the country.”

Mrs. Clinton pledged support for Libya. “The United States stands ready to work with the Libyan people during this historic time,” she said.

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