Libyan strongman Khalifa Hifter to stand for presidency

Libya’s powerful commander, Khalifa Hifter, filed as a candidate in the country’s presidential elections next month, as the long-waited vote faces growing uncertainty.

r Hifter submitted his candidacy papers Tuesday in the eastern city of Benghazi and announced the move in a video.

He said he was seeking the country’s highest post to “lead our people in a fateful stage”.

Libya has been wracked by chaos since a Nato-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

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Colonel Gaddafi (Sky News/PA)

The oil-rich nation had for years been split between a government in the east, backed by Hifter, and a UN-supported administration in Tripoli, aided by west-based Libyan militias.

Each side has also had the support of mercenaries from countries such as Russia and Syria and different regional powers.

Mr Hifter commands the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces but delegated his military duties in September to his chief of staff, Abdel-Razek al-Nadhouri, for three months, to meet candidacy terms.

Mr Hifter’s announcement comes after Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son and one-time heir apparent of the late dictator, submitted candidacy papers in the southern town of Sabha.

Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity, has spent years largely in hiding.

If accepted, both Hifter and Seif al-Islam would be among front-runners in the December 24 vote.

They have stirred controversy in western Libya and the capital of Tripoli, the stronghold of their opponents, mostly Islamists.

Politicians and militia leaders have already expressed their rejection to their candidacies, and demanded laws governing the presidential and parliamentary elections to be amended.

The long-awaited vote still faces other challenges, including occasional infighting among armed groups, and 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.

Mr Hifter’s forces besieged Tripoli in a year-long campaign that tried to capture the city.

The campaign ultimately failed last year, leading to UN-mediated talks and the formation of a transitional government charged with leading Libya until the parliamentary and presidential elections.

In his video comments, Mr Hifter said that if elected, he would prioritise defending Libya’s “integrity and sovereignty”.

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (Thibault Camus/AP)

He has previously modelled his leadership on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a close ally.

Both have declared war on terrorism, applying the term not only to extremist groups but also more moderate Islamists.

The 77-year-old served as a senior officer under Gaddafi but defected in the 1980s during the ruinous war with Chad, in which he and hundreds of soldiers were captured in an ambush.

Mr Hifter later spent more than two decades in Washington, where he is widely believed to have worked with the CIA, before returning to join the anti-Gaddafi uprising in 2011.

His prominence rose as his forces battled extremists and other rival factions across eastern and later southern Libya, areas now under his control.

He has the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as France and Russia.

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