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BANGHAZI, Libya – The chairman of Libya’s elections commission said Thursday that the beleaguered North African nation will hold a referendum on a new constitution before the end of February.

The announcement by Emad Al-Sayeh signals a small step toward restoring unity and political stability after years of chaos that followed the 2011 uprising. But authorities have yet to agree on a date or mechanism for presidential or parliamentary elections, and the security situation remains volatile.

Moammar Gadhafi ruled Libya with an iron fist from 1969 until he was overthrown and killed in the uprising. The energy-rich nation is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west and has become a haven for armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking.

“This process is not just a referendum on the constitution, it’s a referendum on the fate of the nation,” al-Sayeh told a news conference in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. “If it fails, everyone must be held responsible, not just the commission.”

He warned that the referendum, which would be the first in a half century, could be delayed if the election commission does not receive security guarantees and funds to organize the vote.

“The commission will not take a single step unless its headquarters, employees and offices across the country are secured,” he said.

Islamic State militants attacked the commission’s Tripoli offices in May, killing 14 people.

Last month, the parliament in eastern Libya adopted an election law that would govern the referendum and future votes.

A 60-member panel drafted the constitution and submitted it to parliament in August. The vaguely-worded document would leave it to a future government to decide on key issues, from the extent of decentralized rule to the national flag and anthem.

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