BEIRUT

Middle East

Calls for unity as turmoil roils Libya

Abu Bakar Baira, interim head of parliament, speaks during the first session held by Libya's newly elected House of Representatives in Tobruk August 2, 2014.REUTERS/Stringer

TRIPOLI: Libya’s newly elected parliament called for national unity at its first formal session Monday, as rival armed factions battled for dominance in and around the capital.

Even as the new House of Representatives met, heavy artillery and rocket fire hit parts of southern and western Tripoli, where Islamist-leaning Misrata brigades are fighting to oust rival Zintani militias from the international airport.

Lawmakers had gathered far from the fighting in the capital in a heavily guarded hotel in the eastern city of Tobruk, after three weeks of fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi made the two main cities unsafe for the parliament session.

Elected in June, the House of Representatives replaces the General National Congress after a vote which analysts said eroded the political dominance that Islamist factions linked to the Muslim Brotherhood had in the legislature.

“A swift transition from the GNC to the new parliament is vital because the country is in turmoil,” Azzedine al-Awami, the former deputy GNC chief, said at start of the first session.

“We hope all Libyans stand together to put our country’s best interests first.”

Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani, standing in for the prime minister, who was attending a summit in the United States, urged lawmakers to form a unity government.

But in a sign of division over the legitimacy of the new assembly, in Tripoli, Nouri Ali Abu Sahmein, an Islamist who was president of the GNC, called for a rival parliamentary session in the capital to make an official handover of power.

It was not clear how much support his call would receive. Some Islamist-leaning members of the new parliament and ex-GNC lawmakers did not attend the Tobruk session.

More than 200 people have been killed in the recent fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi.

The battle for Tripoli airport is part of a wider political struggle between two loose factions of ex-rebels and their political allies who once fought together against Gaddafi, but whose rivalries exploded over the spoils of post-war Libya.

On one side are the Zintani brigades – based in the city of Zintan, 130 km southwest of Tripoli – with fighters from anti-Islamist groups the Qaaqaa and Al-Sawaiq Brigades, including some ex-Gaddafi forces, and political allies.

Against them are fighters loyal to the western port of Misrata, allied with the Islamist Justice and Construction party, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, who say they are fighting to purge ex-Gadhafi elements.

Libya’s lifeline oil production has slipped to 450,000 barrels per day from 500,000 bpd a week ago, the National Oil Corporation said Monday, without giving details why output had fallen.

Even the previous figure is well below the 1.4 million bpd Libya produced a year ago before strikes and blockades cut output and exports from the OPEC state.

The General National Congress was stormed numerous times by different militia brigades trying to pressure lawmakers over political decisions or to demand that it dissolve. But the fighting over the airport that started three weeks ago has been the worst since the 2011 war.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 05, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

Libya's newly elected parliament called for national unity at its first formal session Monday, as rival armed factions battled for dominance in and around the capital.

Lawmakers had gathered far from the fighting in the capital in a heavily guarded hotel in the eastern city of Tobruk, after three weeks of fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi made the two main cities unsafe for the parliament session.

More than 200 people have been killed in the recent fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi.

On one side are the Zintani brigades – based in the city of Zintan, 130 km southwest of Tripoli – with fighters from anti-Islamist groups the Qaaqaa and Al-Sawaiq Brigades, including some ex-Gaddafi forces, and political allies.


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