The deputy leader of Libya's rebel administration has said it could take up to two years to organise elections, backtracking on promises of a six-month transition to democracy and adding to internal dissent already brewing within the movement seeking to topple Muammar Gaddafi.
Criticism of the rebel leadership's National Transitional Council has been growing in its stronghold city of Benghazi, in the mostly rebel-held east of Libya.
Deeper splits within the rebel movement could further hamper its faltering drive to remove Gaddafi, who has been in power for more than 40 years and is continuing to hold on despite Nato air strikes in support of his opponents.
The announcement on Wednesday of a longer transition period has raised suspicions that some council members are intent on prolonging their power.
The council's vice chairman, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, said a news conference that a one- to two-year transition period would be needed after the hoped-for ouster of Gaddafi. In that time, he said, the opposition would form a transitional legislative body tasked with writing a constitution, hold a referendum on the charter, form political parties and then hold elections.
A day earlier, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, Jeffrey Feltman, reminded the council that its "job is to go out of business as soon as possible".
Other members of the council agreed and one said Mr Ghoga's announcement took him by surprise.
Mr Ghoga "is mistaken" about a new timetable unless "this decision was made at some secret meeting", said Yousif Sherif, the council member in charge of town councils and culture. It is "engraved in stone," he said, that "the elections should not take more than six months" to organise.
Mr Sherif told The Associated Press that under another safeguard to ensure a democratic transition, no council member would be allowed to stand for election.