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Libya's new assembly picks its first president

Libya's national assembly has picked Mohammed Magarief as its president. The moderate Islamist is effectively Libya's acting head of state, but the true extent of his powers is yet to be determined.

Magarief, the leader of the National Front party, will head the General National Congress (GNC), which will name a prime minister, pass laws and steer Libya to full parliamentary elections after the drafting of a new constitution.

A leading member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an early opposition movement that made several attempts to bring down Moammar Gadhafi, Magarief had lived in exile since the 1980s. Magarief's National Front party, which won three seats in the July 7 poll for the assembly, is an offshoot of that group.

"I am very, very happy," Magarief told the Reuters news agency. "This is a big responsibility."

'This is democracy'

Magarief beat independent front-runner Ali Zidan for the post.

"This is democracy," Zidan told Reuters, congratulating Magarief. "This is what we have dreamt of."

The assembly was also set to pick two deputies for Magarief, who had been seen as a leading contender for the top job.

A first step

At an informal meeting on Monday, members of the GNC had agreed on the need to select a head of the GNC and two deputy chiefs within the week, according to Salah Jawooda, an independent member from the eastern city of Benghazi.

Late Wednesday night, Libya's National Transitional Council passed control of the country to the GNC. The transitional council had run the country since Gadhafi was ousted last year.

No dates have been set for the formation of the new government, the panel to vote on the new constitution, or next year's election of a new parliament.

An estimated 1.6 million Libyans, of 2.8 million registered voters, cast their ballots to choose the assembly in the country's first comprehensive elections in more than four decades. The liberal-leaning Alliance of National Forces holds 39 of the 80 seats reserved for political parties. Where all of the 120 independent members stand remains unclear.

mkg/jlw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)