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Libya withdraws as host of 2017 African Cup of Nations because of security fears

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Violence-plagued Libya conceded it won't be able to host the African Cup of Nations in 2017 because of security concerns, throwing organizers into a frantic rush Saturday to find a new venue for the continent's top football tournament.

After announcing Libya's withdrawal as host, the Confederation of African Football gave countries interested in hosting in Libya's place until the end of September — barely a month — to submit their bids.

Algeria, Cameroon, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Zambia had already been shortlisted as possible hosts for the 2019 and 2021 tournaments and may consider bringing their plans forward two years. South Africa, which stood in for Libya last year when the north African country was initially meant to host the 2013 African Cup, may also become a short-notice candidate again.

The 16-team African Cup needs a minimum of four suitable stadiums to meet its criteria, but also has the added challenge now of quickly finding a host that has other essential facilities already in place with the January-February tournament just over two years away.

Host nations normally get four years to prepare.

"Considering the limited time left for the organization of the 2017 edition, the CAF executive committee will select a host country whose dossier guarantees that accommodation, transportation and hotels facilities, as well as training sites and stadiums, already exist," CAF said in a statement on Saturday.

Africa's top football body said it was informed that Libya was withdrawing as host at a meeting Friday at CAF headquarters in Cairo. Libya's sports minister and football federation head were present at the meeting and told CAF President Issa Hayatou they were backing out, CAF said.

Libya initially won hosting rights for the 2013 African Cup. But the country has been wracked by violence since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, forcing it to give up hosting rights for 2013 and take on the 2017 tournament with the hope that an extra four years would be enough to prepare. But the violence has continued and Libya has seen some of its worst fighting in recent months, with militias battling in the capital, Tripoli, and the eastern city of Benghazi. A battle for Tripoli's international airport has been raging for weeks.

CAF said that "owing to the unstable security situation in the country, Libya would not be able to host."

Countries now must submit bids by Sept. 30 to be considered as a candidate and CAF will choose the new host at an executive committee meeting next year, it said. CAF did not give an exact date for that decision.

The 2015 African Cup will be held in Morocco this January and February.

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Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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