The Latest: Libyan leader asks for UN support in elections

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Latest from the U.N. General Assembly (all times EDT):

1:29 p.m.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj is calling for U.N. support in holding presidential and parliamentary elections as the war-torn country remains split between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Sarraj said elections next year could lead to democracy and end Libya’s “legitimacy crisis.” While he called for political dialogue with all factions and regions of Libya, he said the exception would be those who’ve ”spilled Libyan blood.”

Sarraj delivered his prerecorded remarks to the world body’s first-ever virtual general assembly from Tripoli, where his U.N.-backed government is based. He is aided by Turkey and Qatar. His rival, Khalifa Hifter, controls the east and is backed by neighboring Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russian mercenaries.

Sarraj slammed Hifter’s attempted offensive on the capital, Tripoli last year, calling it a “tyrannical attack” that attempted to return the country to dictatorship. Still, as he spoke he represented only part of the country. Libya descended into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.

The instability has made Libya a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.

Libya’s handling of migrants has been criticized by rights groups. They say refugees there have been raped or forcibly deported, or die in custody as from violence, torture or starvation.

Sarraj defended his government’s treatment of migrants. “Libya is a victim of a migration and not its reason,” he said.


12:22 p.m.

Here’s another COVID-19 problem that the U.N. is trying to solve: how to help more than 300,000 merchant mariners trapped at sea because of virus restrictions get home.

Saying many seafarers are at a “breaking point” after as much as a year away from home, Captain Hedi Marzougui pleaded their case Thursday at a U.N.-organized meeting with shipping executives and government transport officials.

He described his own experience stuck aboard his ship as the pandemic washed over the world and made shipping crews unwelcome in many ports.

“We received very little information and … nations changed regulations on a daily, if not hourly basis,” he said. Shipping crews felt like “second-class citizens” despite their increasingly crucial role in transporting food and medical equipment as air travel nearly collapsed.

Maritime ministers from Panama, France, Kenya and the Philippines defended steps they’ve taken to allow safe crew changes or otherwise ease the crisis.

But they lamented a lack of international coordination among states and shipping companies, and called for more cooperation and new rules to protect countries from the virus while respecting the rights of stranded merchant mariners.


12:17 p.m.

The king of the small island-nation of Bahrain used his appearance before world leaders to defend his nation’s decision to formalize ties with Israel.

In a prerecorded address for this year’s virtual U.N. General Assembly, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa also expressed support for an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital — a position that Palestinians say is undermined by formalizing ties with Israel before concessions are made in peace talks.

Bahrain agreed to normalize relations with Israel two weeks ago following a similar move by the United Arab Emirates in August. The agreements, brokered and pushed by the Trump administration, have been slammed as acts of betrayal by the Palestinians. The king said a two-state solution is the way forward.

“This would usher in a new era of cooperation and good neighborliness to build and promote common interests in the countries in the region,” he said.

Gulf Arab states have been building ties with Israel, in part over shared concerns about rival Iran.

The Sunni-ruled government of Bahrain accuses Iran of arming militants from among majority Shiites in the country and of plotting attacks on the island-nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

The Bahraini king commended the UAE’s decision to formalize ties with Israel as a courageous, successful and commendable step. He said the UAE’s move, which suspended Israeli annexation of occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians, “promoted a chance for peace and opened a new page for people of the region.”

The Bahrain agreement with Israel included no such concessions. The speech by the king marks the first televised remarks on the deal by the monarch since it was announced Sept. 11. The deal has been criticized by Bahraini opposition groups.


11:07 a.m.

Yemen’s embattled and exiled president is urging his government’s rival, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, to stop impeding the flow of urgently needed humanitarian aid. He also is asking that they allow a U.N. team immediate access to an abandoned oil tanker that risks causing massive environmental damage to the Red Sea.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi made the plea in a prerecorded speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s virtual summit. He spoke from Saudi Arabia, where he has been living during the more than five-year-long war that has ravaged the Arab world’s poorest nation on the western tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Hadi represents the internationally-recognized government of Yemen that was pushed out of the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014 by the Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi has been at war in Yemen ever since, sparking the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Millions have been displaced, pushed into poverty and live on the brink of famine.

“We are trying to save our country and establish a just and lasting peace,” Hadi said, blaming Iran directly for meddling in his nation. “The objective is to stop the blood-letting in Yemen.”

More than 17,500 civilians have been killed and injured since 2015, and a quarter of all civilians killed in air raids are women and children, according to the Yemen Data Project. Thousands of the country’s civilian deaths are blamed on Saudi coalition airstrikes, which are backed by the U.nited States. Last year, President Donald Trump vetoed a resolution passed by Congress to end U.S. military assistance in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

Multiple attempts by the U.N. to broker a peace deal have failed to end the conflict.

In addition to the humanitarian toll, the Yemeni government in exile, the U.N., and western diplomats have been sounding the alarm and putting pressure on Houthis to secure the decaying oil tanker near the port of Hodeida, which the group controls.


10 a.m.

African nations have come out swinging on the third day of the United Nations annual gathering of world leaders, calling for dramatic fiscal measures to help the continent’s economies survive the coronavirus pandemic.

They seek debt cancellation to free up more resources to tackle the virus and its effects, including the fight against other deadly diseases.

“We need to purely and simply cancel this debt,” said Niger’s president, Issoufou Mahamadou.

The president of Ivory Coast, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies before the pandemic, called for the extension of a debt moratorium and the issue of special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund.

“I call on all Africa’s partners to take bolder measures,” Alassane Ouattara said, noting that the fight against COVID-19 and its economic effects has represented 5% of the country’s GDP.

African nations estimate they need $100 billion in support annually for the next three years, pointing out it’s a fraction of the trillions of dollars some richer countries are using to revive their economies.


9:49 a.m.

The United Nations chief says the world failed to cooperate in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, and if its response to the climate crisis is equally poor “I fear the worst.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council that the “”tiny microscopic virus is now the number one threat in our world.” He blamed a lack of global preparedness, cooperation, unity and solidarity for the international community’s failure.

The council met Thursday on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders — both held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guterres pointed to the nearly one million deaths and 30 million infections around the world and warned that the coronavirus remains out of control.

“As countries go in different directions, the virus goes in every direction,” he said.

Guterres called for global cooperation among nations, global and regional organizations, international financial institutions, trade alliances and others. He said the idea of global governance must be broadened “to take in businesses, civil society, cities and regions, academia and young people.”

Guterres said COVID-19 is a warning “that must spur us to action.”

“We have no choice,” he said. “Either we come together in global institutions that are fit for purpose, or we will be crushed by divisiveness and chaos.”

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