Libya’s interim prime minister has said he will run for president if that is what the people want, a day after the son of the country’s late dictator Muammar Qaddafi emerged after years of hiding and announced his candidacy.
Prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who is meant to lead the country until a winner is declared following national and presidential elections on December 24, asked a cheering crowd at a youth rally: “It’s up to you. Do you want me to run in the elections, or do you not?”
The developments come as the date for long-planned elections, scheduled to take place on December 24, draws nearer.
Mr Dbeibah is barred from running under Libya's current elections laws.
On Sunday, Saif Al Islam Qaddafi, the son and one-time heir apparent of Mr Qaddafi, submitted papers in the southern town of Sabha declaring his candidacy. Saif Al Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity, has spent years in hiding.
His father was removed from power in 2011 in a Nato-backed popular uprising, after more than 40 years in power, and was hunted down and killed amid the ensuing fighting that turned into a civil war.
Mr Dbeibah has yet to officially announce his candidacy. Under Libya’s elections laws, he would have had to step down from government duties more than three months before an election date.
He also pledged when he was appointed to the interim position through UN-led talks that he would not run for office in the government that succeeded his. Those talks were marred by allegations of bribery.
'Who got us to Lockerbie?'
In an apparent reference to the Qaddafi family, Mr Dbeibah also referenced a recent controversy involving Libya's foreign minister who is facing suspension after telling the BBC the government could work with the US on extraditing a man wanted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
The downing of the commercial flight over Scotland killed 270 people. Qaddafi's government had accepted responsibility for the attack and paid compensation to victims' families after years of sanctions.
“Who got us to Lockerbie?” Mr Dbeibah asked the crowd. “Who put us under sanctions, travel bans? It cannot be repeated.”
The long-awaited vote still faces challenges, including unresolved issues over laws governing the elections and occasional infighting among armed groups. Other obstacles include the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west, split for years by the war, and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops.
Saif Al Islam’s re-emergence has already caused controversy in Libya. Mr Qaddafi’s second-born son was captured by fighters in the town of Zintan late in 2011 and detained until 2017. Since then, he largely disappeared from the public eye until last July, when he told The New York Times in an exclusive interview that he was considering a run for the country’s top office.