Libyan PM asks displaced residents to delay return

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s prime minister on Thursday told ethnic Africans forced to flee their homes during the country’s 2011 civil war to delay their planned return.

The western town of Tawergha was used as a staging ground by forces loyal to ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi to attack the nearby city of Misrata. Anti-regime rebels later overran Tawergha and the town’s 40,000 residents fled or were driven out by vengeful rebels.

Scores were thrown into jails, where human rights groups recorded cases of torture. Now the displaced residents live in harsh conditions in refugee camps in Tripoli and Benghazi.

They had declared their intention to return on June 26, but Prime Minister Ali Zidan told a news conference that the time is not right yet. Many ex-rebels in Misrata continue to express anger against anyone from Tawergha.

Zidan promised his government would do more to resolve the Tawergha residents’ problem.

Also Thursday, Human Rights Watch urged judicial authorities in Libya to drop criminal charges against two politicians facing the death penalty for using election posters deemed offensive to Islam.

Ali Tekbali and Fathi Sager from the National Libyan Party are charged with insulting religion, instigating sedition and harming national security. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

HRW says the charges stem from posters used in elections last year showing men discussing the role of women in Libyan society. One allegedly resembles the Prophet Muhammad as depicted in a cartoon published last year by a French magazine that offended Muslims.

The New York-based group said in a statement that international law requires countries to only apply the death penalty to severe cases.

Hearings in the case resume Oct. 13.

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