The Libyan capital is shaken by the battle as the rival premier contends for power – The Citizen



Libya’s capital was rocked early Tuesday by gunfights between supporters of two rival administrations, threatening another escalation in the war-torn North African country.

Supporters of a government backed by Libya parliament and from an east-based military strongman he had tried to forcibly move to the western city of Tripoli.

This has triggered pre-dawn clashes with armed groups supporting interim prime minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah.

Hours later they withdrew, citing “the safety and security of citizens”, while the United Nations, the European Union and the United States called for calm.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the fighting, but AFP correspondents saw burnt-out cars and military convoys on a major thoroughfare on Tuesday morning.

Dbeibah was appointed early last year as part of a troubled United Nations-led peace process to lead a transition to elections scheduled for December, but the vote has been postponed indefinitely.

In February of this year, the east-based parliament appointed rival premier and former interior minister Fathi Bashagha in his place, arguing that Dbeibah’s term was over.

Dbeibah refused to hand over power except to an elected administration.

Both men hail from the western city of Misrata and are supported by several armed groups in the capital.

The Bashagha press service announced overnight “the arrival of the prime minister of the Libyan government, Fathi Bashagha, accompanied by several ministers, to the capital Tripoli to begin his work there”.

But his arrival sparked a battle that raised fears of a return to chaos following the 2011 uprising that dominated dictator Moamer Gaddafi and the all-out conflict that gripped the capital when pro-Haftar forces attacked in 2019-20.

Several hours later, the Bashagha camp announced that he and his ministers had “left Tripoli to preserve the safety and security of the citizens.”

The defense ministry of Dbeibah said it will respond “with an iron fist” to anyone who “attacks security and that of citizens”.

– Bashagha’s support ‘preserved’ –

Local media subsequently broadcast footage of Dbeibah meeting members of the public on the streets of the capital.

The education ministry announced that schools would be closed for the time being.

Libyan expert Emadeddin Badi said Bashagha’s move was “a failed attempt at a fait accompli”.

Badi said Bashagha had “lost much of his constituency in his hometown of Misrata, tarnished his anti-crime brand and has now absorbed his popular support.”

“It will be difficult to pick up the pieces after this,” he tweeted.

The top national official of the United Nations, Stephanie Williams, in a tweet urged all parties to remain calm, also avoiding “inflammatory rhetoric”.

Bashagha, in the video broadcast by Libyan television stations, said that on Tuesday evening he will deliver a “speech of unity to the Libyan people”.

His interior minister, Issam Abu Zariba, has promised that their administration will assume its duties “peacefully” and “in compliance with the law”.

He called on “all security forces and interested parties to cooperate” to ensure a smooth transition.

Pro-Bashagha armed groups had already deployed on the fringes of the capital in March, raising fears that a fragile ceasefire in place since October 2020 would collapse.

READ ALSO: Libya loses $ 60 million a day from oil shutdowns – Minister

– ‘Very worrying’ –

The creation of two governments echoes Libya’s troubled period of rival administrations between 2014 and 2021, when the nation was torn apart by civil war.

The uprising that struck Gaddafi plunged the vast but sparsely populated country into violence as armed groups vied for control and a series of interim governments came and went.

Many have been integrated into the state, in part to access a share of the country’s vast oil wealth, and human rights groups have accused all parties of abuses.

Bashagha is backed by Haftar, who conducted a failed bid to take over Tripoli in 2019-20 and is widely hated in the capital.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that the situation had become “very serious”.

“We were expecting something like this because in Libya we didn’t have elections but we have two governments,” he said. “And sooner or later, when there are two governments, they collide.”

The US embassy urged “all armed groups to refrain from violence and for political leaders to recognize that taking or maintaining power through violence will only harm the Libyan people.”

The US mission also urged progress towards presidential and parliamentary elections.

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