Elections to mark new start for Libya economy

For Tripoli businessman Salem Mohammed, Libya's first elections in a generation on Saturday will pave the way for what he believes the North African country should become - a new Dubai.

"We have oil, we have money, Libya can easily be just like Dubai," the 47 year old, who works in manufacturing, said.

"We just need foreign investors and hopefully they will now start coming and business will boom."

Nine months after the end of Libya's uprising, Mohammed hopes Saturday's election of a national assembly will mark a new start for an economy that stagnated under Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year autocratic rule.

Investors will be closely watching the outcome of the vote - with no indication of a leading contender - to see what it will mean for projects that were frozen during the fighting and for the vast opportunities likely to emerge in an oil-producing nation with the wealth to pay for construction and healthcare.

Libya's new rulers have said no major new concessions would be awarded until after the polls and are reviewing past deals.

Once elected, the new 200-member assembly will appoint a government to replace an interim administration that lacked the mandate to make major decisions, and expectations are for old projects to restart and for new contracts to be signed.

"There are a lot of projects (on standby), everyone wants to settle their projects from before," said Klaus Fodinger, head of the cement division at Austria's Asamer Holding, which resumed operations in Libya in October.

"If there are no institutions, no one to talk to, how do you settle deals from the past? The elections are a crucial event."

Many international businesses came to Libya in recent years, attracted by its huge energy reserves and a population, which although numbering just 6 million, has median incomes much higher than elsewhere in the region.

But the eight-month NATO-backed uprising sent foreigners fleeing.

While oil companies were the first to return and have helped Libya climb back close to pre-war output levels of 1.6 million barrels per day, others have not been as fast.

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