New leader urges Western allies to unfreeze funds so Libya can pay its way
Libya's incoming prime minister Abdurrahim El-Keib was
forced on Wednesday to pacify an angry crowd of armed fighters demanding jobs
and back-pay, and urged his Western allies to unblock frozen funds so his
government can pay its way.
After coolly charming the dozens of gun-toting former rebels
picketing the Finance Ministry, the US-trained academic plucked from obscurity
to form a cabinet, said he needed billions of dollars Muammar Gaddafi had parked
in foreign accounts and which have been frozen by international sanctions.
"What this country needs to take care of the security
situation is resources," Keib said in some of his first comments to
international media since being elected last week by the National Transitional
Council (NTC) whose forces overthrew Gaddafi in August and captured and killed
him two weeks ago.
"They are our resources in fact," he added.
"We are not begging for a loan."
An engineering professor who returned this year to support
the Western-backed uprising after a long career in the United States, Keib has
pledged to take two weeks to form a government that can rally support from
disparate local factions that fought Gaddafi. Thousands of their fighters are
still camped around the capital, staking claims to a share of power, jobs and
Western governments have released several billion dollars of
Gaddafi's frozen assets to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Libya, but the
bulk of an estimated $150bn in funds accrued largely from oil exports remains
All but unknown until last week, the softly spoken academic
secured a warm reception from the armed demonstrators when he promised
something for everyone under the new democracy - though he also injected a note
of cautious reality: "I don't have Moses' staff, and I won't create
miracles," he said after wading into the crowd and shaking hands like a
Some of those who had marched up to the gates of the Finance
Ministry compound in Tripoli while Keib was holding meetings inside brandished
their Kalashnikov rifles. Others were limping and many had bandages on their
faces and casts on their arms.
"No, no, no! Not like Gaddafi, no!" chanted the
group, most of whom were dressed in a motley assortment of army fatigues.
"The government should form an army and we want to be
part of it," said one of the men, Mohammed Shaaban. "We brought the
revolution and we want to be part of the future of the country."
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Like many of the popular bands which took on Gaddafi's army
and, with NATO help, ended his 42 years in power, the group was drawn from one
small neighbourhood in Tripoli and had given itself the military-sounding name,
the Red Headquarters Brigade.
"There is no order," shouted another of the
fighters over a megaphone. "The government doesn't know what it's
While few of the students and tradesmen and other civilians
who took up arms did so for money, the lack of resources after eight months of
war is a vexed question for many. A rumour that other groups, some supported by
wealthy businessmen or political movements, received cash for this week's
Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha had stirred a sense of grievance among those
Keib sought to calm their anger, letting the demonstrators
in to the courtyard of the ministry and stepping out among them.
While reminding them of the government's limited resources,
he said: "There will be programmes to include all the revolutionaries,
whether in the national security force or in the national army, or civil society
"There will be programmes to include everyone."
He then took questions from the fighters, and responded to
them individually, his years of speaking from university lecture podiums from
Alabama to Abu Dhabi standing him in good stead.
Slowly, and clearly feeling reassured by what they heard,
the crowd dispersed and the fighters returned home.
It was a rare early glimpse of how Keib may operate as prime
minister of a country that is reeling from a year of bloodshed.
Now Keib, 61, who was raised in Tripoli, has the tough job
of forming a government to unite the nation of six million, before elections
can be held in mid-2012 for a National Council which will draft a new
Speaking after the protest, he said he was focusing on ways
to find gainful peacetime employment for former rebel fighters, whose presence
on the streets has raised concerns for Libya's future if the new administration
does not satisfy them.
"It is not an issue of just saying 'OK, just give us
your gun, go home.' This is not the approach we take," he said.
"We will look at the issues, evaluate and come up with
programmes to take care of them and help them and make them feel