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Rights lawyer elected as Libyan PM

Libya's congress has elected a human rights lawyer as interim prime minister, a week after his predecessor was sacked for failing to present a cabinet line-up political factions could agree on.

Ali Zidan, also a former independent congressman, won 93 votes, securing a majority of those who voted in a poll to determine the country's leader for a transitional period of around 20 months.

His top priority will be to name a new government approved by congress. The cabinet will face the daunting task of disarming thousands of young men who fought in last year's eight-month civil war that led to the capture and killing of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The ministers will also be pressed to provide basic services, restore security by creating a military and police force capable of asserting authority over disparate militias left over from the war, and to unify the country's tribes and towns. One such militia, a radical Islamist group that claims to have dissolved, has been linked to the attack last month on the US Consulate in Benghazi that killed the American ambassador and three others.

Feuds between cities and towns also flare up frequently. Militias are deployed on the outskirts of the mountain town of Bani Walid, one of the few remaining strongholds of Gaddafi loyalists. The possibility of an outbreak of violence there highlights the polarised atmosphere.

Any prime minister who wants to impose his authority on the militias will need broad national support for his government, but such support is hard to obtain.

The 200-member congress selected Mr Zidan following last week's dismissal of Mustafa Abushagur after just 25 days in the post for failing to present a cabinet list that satisfied legislators.

Some parliamentarians argued that Mr Abushagur's choices were not diverse enough, involved too many unknown individuals for key posts, and also had too many names from the previous interim government, which was seen by some Libyans as weak and corrupt.

Mr Zidan was a diplomat under Gaddafi before defecting in the 1980s and joining Libya's oldest opposition movement, National Front for the Salvation of Libya, from Geneva where he lived.

On Sunday, he edged out local government minister Mohammed Al-Harari by eight votes to win. Mr Harari appeared to be the Islamists' choice for prime minister.

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