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Libyan council seeks more time to form unity government

Prime minister-designate asks for extension to deadline as internationally recognised parliament in Tobruk rejects initial line-up
Fayez al-Sarraj (C) chairs a meeting of the Presidential Council on 4 February (AFP)

Libya's presidential council said on Monday it needs one more week to form a national unity government, after the country's internationally recognised parliament rejected an initial line-up.

The nine-member council, chaired by prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj, had been due to submit the names of a new unity government on Wednesday for approval by the recognised parliament.

A 32-member unity government was announced on January 19 under a UN-brokered deal signed the previous month in Morocco aimed at ending years of violent unrest since the revolution in 2011 that toppled Libya's long-term leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But the recognised parliament on January 25 rejected the line-up, saying it was too large and set a 10-day deadline for a smaller cabinet.

Sarraj, a businessman, has been holding a series of consultations with Libyan political players to forge a new government.

On Monday, the presidential council said it had asked the legislature based in the eastern city of Tobruk to grant it an extra week, a council source told AFP.

The source said the council "needs more time" to discuss the line-up.

World powers have been pressing Libyans to back a unity government amid concern that a continuing standoff between rival administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk could allow the Islamic State (IS) group to consolidate its contol over a stretch of coastline in the centre of the country, posing a threat to the rest of Africa as well as to Europe across the Mediterranean.

The turmoil has also served as fertile ground for people smugglers who are cashing in by ferrying refugees and migrants to Europe in Mediterranean crossings that often turn deadly.