Libya could hold elections next spring following Palermo meeting

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Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe ConteÊwelcomes Libya's Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj as he arrives at the venue of the international conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Libya could hold its planned elections next year, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Enzo Moavero said on Wednesday.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe ConteÊwelcomes Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj as he arrives at the venue of the international conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Libya had initially planned to hold its elections in December this year.

Libya’s two main rival leaders met for the first time in more than five months in Sicily on Tuesday and its prime minister endorsed a United Nations plan for an election next year.

More than seven years after the ousting of long-serving dictator Muammar Gaddafi, no central authority has asserted control over oil-producing Libya and armed groups control the streets.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, whose weak but internationally recognized government is based in the country’s west, met Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman who rules most of the east of the North African state.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame, speaking at a joint news conference, said the Palermo gathering was a step forward for a U.N. plan to hold elections in 2019 after a national constitutional conference.

A draft communique, reviewed by Reuters, said Libyan delegations had agreed to prepare for the election by spring 2019 and abide by the results.

An Italian diplomat said Haftar had given his backing for Serraj to remain in office as prime minister until the election can be held.

“You don’t change the horse until you cross the river,” the diplomat quoted Haftar as saying.

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