Ministers from a newly appointed Libyan unity government are expected to establish an office in Tripoli in the coming days, but their arrival is likely to be contested and could trigger fresh violence in the capital.
Western capitals predict the new government will give a green light to a future military training programme for a new Libyan army and back the US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants already under way.
The new government of national accord was nominated over the weekend by a UN-recognised provisional government in exile, the presidency council based in Tunis, a move that was quickly endorsed by the US, the UN and EU.
The list of proposed ministers has yet to receive a vote of approval from the house of representatives (HoR), a UN-backed assembly in Tobruk, as had been envisaged in a political settlement agreed in Morocco in December. But western diplomats say the volatile and often violent nature of Libyan politics meant that many HoR members were not able to cast their votes. Instead, the presidency council chose to interpret the endorsement of about 100 HoR members as a “green light” to proclaim the new government.
It is widely accepted that the government will have no real legitimacy without moving to Tripoli, the seat of most state institutions, but that will not be easy. It is opposed by the leadership of the Islamist-dominated general national congress (GNC) and at least one hardline militia, the Samood Front. Even members of the negotiating group that produced the December agreement have voiced doubts on its legitimacy without a formal HoR vote.
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