Son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi runs for president

The son of Libya’s late dictator Muammar Gaddafi registered on Sunday as a presidential candidate in December’s planned election, as disputes rage over the rules of a vote proposed as a way to end a decade of violence.

Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, 49, appeared in social media photos in traditional dress, signing documents at an election centre in the southern town of Sebha. An official confirmed he had registered.

Gaddafi is one of the most prominent figures expected to run for president. The list of potential candidates also includes the eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, the country’s prime minister, Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh, and the parliamentary speaker, Aguila Saleh.

Despite the public backing of most Libyan factions and foreign powers for elections on 24 December, the vote is still in doubt as rival entities squabble over the rules and schedule.

A major conference in Paris on Friday agreed to sanction any party that disrupts or prevents the vote, but with less than six weeks to go, there is still no agreement on rules to govern who should be able to run.

Gaddafi is likely to play on nostalgia for the era before the Nato-backed uprising in 2011 that swept his father from power and ushered in a decade of chaos and violence, but analysts say he may not prove to be a frontrunner.

Many Libyansremember the Gaddafi era as one of harsh autocracy, and Saif al-Islam and other former regime figures have been out of power for so long they may find it difficult to mobilise as much support as major rivals.

Opposition fighters captured and shot Muammar Gaddafi outside his home town of Sirtein October 2011 and shot.

Saif al-Islam remains something of a cipher to many Libyans, having spent the past decade out of public sight since his capture the same month by fighters from the mountain region of Zintan.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi attends a hearing behind bars in a courtroom in Zintan.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi attends a hearing behind bars in a courtroom in Zintan. Photograph: Reuters

He gave an interview to the New York Times earlier this year, but has not yet made any public appearance speaking directly to Libyans.

A Tripoli court tried him in absentia in 2015, when he appeared via video link from Zintan, and was sentenced him to death for war crimes including killing protesters during the 2011 revolt.

He would probably face arrest or other dangers if he appeared publicly in the capital Tripoli. He is also wanted by the international criminal court.

Educated at the London School of Economics and a fluent English speaker, Saif al-Islam was once seen by many governments as the acceptable, western-friendly face of Libya, and a possible heir apparent.

When a rebellion broke out in 2011 against Muammar Gaddafi’s long rule, however, Saif al-Islam immediately chose family and clan loyalties over his many friendships in the west.

“We fight here in Libya; we die here in Libya,” he said.

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