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Libya's ex-oil minister criticizes new leaders

By Vanessa Gera

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 25 2011 11:15 a.m. MST

The new transitional cabinet ministers stand during a press conference in Tripoli, Libya, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. Libya's transitional government was sworn in Thursday before the country's interim leader, another step in the oil-rich country's roadmap to elections next year. Starting with Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib, each minister faced the transitional council's leader, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, placed his hand on a Quran and swore to "remain loyal to the goals" of the revolution that overthrew longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Abdel Magid al-Fergany, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

TRIPOLI, Libya — A senior official in Libya's outgoing transitional government has sharply criticized the country's new leadership as an unrepresentative "elite" supported by outside powers.

Former oil and finance minister Ali Tarhouni also suggested in a press conference late Thursday that at least one of those foreign powers is meddling excessively in Libya's internal affairs — an apparent reference to Qatar.

Tarhouni, a former professor of economics and finance at the University of Washington, was one of the most visible and internationally respected faces of the Libyan revolutionary leadership that presided over the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

But he said he refused an offer to join Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib's transitional Cabinet, because he believes that those now in power are not representative. He accused them of being "supported from the outside by money, arms and PR."

"The voices that we see now are the voices of the elite," he said.

The U.S.-educated Tarhouni, who managed the then-rebel government's financial system, is one of the first senior Libyan politicians to openly question the new government's legitimacy.

He said the countries who backed the rebellion have interests in Libya, "some which we know and some which we don't know." While he didn't elaborate, Tarhouni did not object when a journalist suggested that he was speaking about Qatar.

The Gulf state was a leading Arab backer of the uprising that toppled Gadhafi's regime, providing warplanes to the NATO-led air campaign as well as direct help to the revolutionaries with arms and other equipment

Tarhouni, who spoke several hours after el-Keib's new government was sworn in, said he felt relieved at finally being able to speak his mind freely.

"Some are thinking of imposing their will on the Libyan people and that's a mistake," Tarhouni said. "For me the question of sovereignty is the most important. This revolution was for re-establishing dignity and sovereignty."

Earlier this week, the chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, also indicated that Qatar was meddling in Libyan affairs.

He said Libyans remain grateful to "our brothers" in Qatar for supporting the revolt against Gadhafi, but said Qatar was doing some things in Libya "that we as the NTC don't know about." He said his leadership protested to Qatar's leaders, but was told that the Gulf state had a right to be involved because it "betted on the success" of the revolution.

Libya's new Cabinet, a gathering of mostly older men who are relatively unknown, faces daunting challenges. They must prepare the country for democratic elections in seven months while establishing control over a nation shattered by four decades of Gadhafi's rule and eight months of civil war.

Tarhouni said that more than 90 percent of Libyans are not represented by this new leadership.

"It is about time that we hear the true voices of the masses," he said.

Tarhouni said he plans to spend the coming months giving lectures and speaking to young Libyans about democracy and the creation of civic institutions. He also said he would be preparing for the upcoming elections, without giving more details.

In another sign of disappointment with the transitional leaders, about 200 men rallied in Tripoli's main square Friday evening to demand justice for about 15 soldiers killed two days earlier in an ambush by Gadhafi loyalists.

Some rallying in Martyrs' Square held up photos of those killed and one banner said "Where is the army?"

The protesters demanded that the transitional leadership find and punish those who carried out the attack near Bani Walid, one of the last two Gadhafi bastions to fight the revolutionary forces during the war.

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