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Aug 22, 11:16 AM EDT

Libya parliament votes no confidence in UN-backed government



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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) -- Libya's parliament voted "no confidence" in a U.N.-backed government on Monday in a major blow to international efforts to bring unity to the deeply divided North African country.

The vote could severely undermine the fledgling government, which Western nations see as the best hope for combatting a potent Islamic State affiliate and curbing human trafficking. Libyan forces allied with the government have driven IS out of much of its former bastion in the coastal city of Sirte with the aid of U.S. airstrikes.

Parliamentary spokesman Abdullah Ablahig said 61 lawmakers voted against the government, 39 abstained and one voted to support it, with enough members - 101 - to reach quorum. The overdue vote by the parliament, which had not convened in eight months, drew criticism from pro-government lawmakers, who said they were not told about the vote beforehand.

"This is cheating," said pro-government lawmaker Galal Saleh, adding that parliament had not announced the confidence vote on Monday's agenda. He said the pro-government bloc was invited to meet with opponents for a consultation, not a vote. The parliament convenes in Libya's far east, while the U.N.-backed government is based in Tripoli.

It's unclear what happens next.

Ablahig said some lawmakers believed the vote would automatically dissolve the government, set up under a U.N. peace deal, and force the designated prime minister to present a new, smaller Cabinet. Others believe the vote requires the revamping of the entire Western-backed presidency council led by Fayez Serraj, which would take the political process back to square one.

Libya has been mired in conflict since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country is been split between rival parliaments and governments, based in Tripoli and the east, each backed by an array of militias and tribes.

In December, the United Nations struck a deal with the rival factions to create a unity government led by Serraj, who is based in the capital.

Lawmaker Abdel-Salam Nassiya said the Cabinet would now have to be changed to include more representation from Libya's east.

The security and power vacuum has transformed Libya into a major conduit for human trafficking to Europe and contributed to the rise of Islamic militant groups, including a powerful Islamic State affiliate. Western nations want a national unity government that can address both issues, and are pinning their hopes on Serraj.

IS seized Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte in 2015, raising fears that Libya could provide a launch pad for attacks on Europe, just across the Mediterranean Sea.

Libyan pro-government forces launched an operation to retake Sirte in June, but the advance stalled once they entered the city. At the government's request, U.S. warplanes carried out a series of strikes on IS positions that helped break the stalemate. Libyan officials now say IS has been driven out of most of the city.

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