Eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control parts of the country, said on Sunday he would listen to the “will of free Libyan people”, in the strongest indication so far that he might run in elections expected next year.
Haftar styles himself as a strongman capable of ending the chaos that has gripped Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
His comments, made at a military graduation ceremony, recall those of Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he was testing the ground before becoming presidential candidate. Sisi was eventually elected in 2014.
Just as Sisi built up wide support after toppling Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, supporters of Haftar speak of a similar situation developing in Libya, with rallies held in some eastern cities calling on him to run.
Haftar said in a speech:
We declare clearly and unequivocally our full compliance with the orders of the free Libyan people, which is its own guardian and the master of its land
He spoke in the eastern city of Benghazi, from where his forces managed to expel Islamist militants during a three-year battle.
Haftar, a general from the Gaddafi era, also dismissed a series of UN-led talks to bridge differences between Libya’s two rival administrations, one linked to him in the east and one backed by the United Nations in the capital Tripoli.
“All the dialogues starting from Ghadames and ending in Tunis and going through Geneva and Skhirat (in Morocco) were just ink on paper,” he said, listing host cities of UN talks.