BEIRUT

Middle East

Libyan parliament reappoints PM as govt loses grip on ministries

Smoke rises following an air strike in Libya's eastern coastal city of Benghazi on September 1, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ ABDULLAH DOMA

BENGHAZI, Libya: Libya’s parliament reappointed Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani Monday as the government lost control of ministries in the capital where armed groups have taken over and a separate parliament has claimed legitimacy.

In another sign of the oil producer sliding deeper into anarchy, Islamist militants launched a new attempt to seize Benghazi’s civilian and military airport from army forces allied to a renegade general. At least 13 soldiers from forces led by Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general from the Libyan army, were killed and 45 wounded, medics said.

The parliament that was elected in June moved to the remote eastern city of Tobruk last month as rival armed groups battled for Tripoli. An alliance led by forces from the western city of Misrata seized control of the capital last week.

The reappointment of Thani, a former defense minister and career soldier who has been prime minister since March, sets him the challenge of reasserting government control over a country where many fear a descent into full-scale civil war.

Parliamentary spokesman Faraj Hashem said 64 of the 106 representatives present had voted for Thani and the house had instructed him “to form a crisis government within a period of time not exceeding two weeks.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Thani before his appointment to give his support, the Libyan government said in a statement. Both stressed the need for national dialogue and reconciliation, it added.

The government released a statement admitting it had lost its grip on many levers of power.

“We announce that most ministries, institutions and state bodies in the capital Tripoli are out of our control,” it said.

“Ministry and state offices in Tripoli have been occupied by armed militias who are preventing government workers from entering and are threatening their superiors,” the government said in a statement.

It said the interim government was in contact with officials and “trying to ensure the continuity of services from afar.”

In a stark illustration of the government’s loss of control in Tripoli, a video posted online showed dozens of men, some armed, crowding around a swimming pool at an U.S. Embassy building, with some diving in from a nearby building.

Washington said Sunday that an armed group had taken over an abandoned annex of the U.S. Embassy but had not broken into the main compound. All embassy staff were evacuated last month.

The groups now controlling Tripoli, some of which have Islamist leanings, refuse to recognize the parliament in Tobruk, which has a strong liberal and federalist presence.

They have reconvened the previous parliament, the General National Congress, in which Islamists were strongly represented.

The government said in a statement that armed factions had attacked a Tripoli camp for internally displaced people from the western town of Tawergha.

It did not name the attackers. The Misrata factions accuse the Tawergha people of having backed Libya’s former dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, who was deposed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

The fluid situation in Tripoli has been exacerbated by separate clashes in the eastern port city of Benghazi where Haftar has declared war on Islamist militants.

On Monday, loud explosions and war planes could be heard from the area of the closed airport which Islamist forces have been trying to seize from Haftar’s forces allied to the regular army.

The area is one of the last positions of army special forces after Islamists overran several camps. Residents said the Islamists including Ansar al-Shariah were trying to enter the Benina area home to the airport and airbase. A nearby football stadium was also hit.

Pro-Islamist Libyan media, meanwhile, reported that some 30 Libyans were arrested in the United Arab Emirates following the air raids.

Media, including television channel An-Nabaa, said among those arrested were businessmen with long-standing ties to the UAE, including some from Misrata.

It was unclear why they were being held, the reports said, but the oil-rich Gulf monarchy looks upon Islamist militants in the region as a serious threat and last month toughened its anti-terrorism laws.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 02, 2014, on page 10.

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