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Libya's Congress Chief Steps Down Over Former Role

Mohammed Magarief, center, then-president of the Libyan national assembly, attends Eid al-Fitr prayers in Benghazi in this August 19, 2012, file photo.
The head of Libya's national assembly said he was stepping down on Tuesday following the passing of a law banning anyone who held a senior post in Muammar Gadhafi's regime from government, regardless of their part in toppling the dictator.

In a televised speech to the General National Congress, the country's legislature, Mohammed Magarief announced his resignation - which had been expected - after the passing of the "political isolation" law, which critics and diplomats fear could strip government of experienced leaders, further complicating the transition to an orderly democracy.

"The people's representatives have expressed their word - the political isolation law - and it must be respected," he said. "And I will be the first ... I place my resignation in your hands."

The law was adopted on May 5 at the demand of armed factions who helped end Gadhafi's 42-year rule in 2011. Analysts fear the decision to hold the vote under duress could embolden armed groups to use force again to assert their will over congress.

The heavily armed groups had besieged the foreign and justice ministries for days before the passing of the law, which prohibits former officials from holding any high position.

An economist who served as ambassador to India under Gadhafi, Magarief lived in exile from the 1980s and became a leading figure in Libya's oldest opposition movement, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya.

Born in 1940 in eastern Libya, where the 2011 uprising broke out, Magarief was elected head of the General National Congress after Libya's first free elections for decades last July.

Magarief received a standing ovation from congress members after he ended his speech, which touched on his own exile and opposition to Gadhafi and which paid tribute to the former rebel fighters who ousted the dictator.

"The people, the people are the real source of this legitimacy," Magarief said. Congress officials were expected to announce an election for a successor.