TRIPOLI // Libya's prime minister may have to step down after parliament yesterday passed a law banning anyone who held a high-level position during Muammar Qaddafi's rule from working for the new administration.
The prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was a diplomat before defecting and joining the opposition in 1980, but the wording of the new law has not made it clear whether or not he had been senior enough to be barred from the new government.
"I don't know, the wording is quite unclear," said a source when asked whether Mr Zeidan would have to step down. It would depend on how the law was implemented, he said.
Tripoli's skies erupted with gunfire in celebration after the vote, and the main square filled with supporters of the legislation.
The wording has been wrangled over for months, and yesterday's vote was prompted by the actions of heavily armed groups who had taken control of two government ministries and said they would not leave until the legislation is passed.
"It's a very unfair and extreme law, but we need to put national interests first to solve the crisis," said Tawfiq Breik, a spokesman for the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA) bloc.
More than a dozen vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft weapons and machine guns remained parked outside the justice ministry, and the foreign ministry had been similarly encircled for the past week.
One of the men stationed in front of the justice ministry, who said the group came from different areas close to the capital, Tripoli, said they would not leave until the prime minister had been forced from office.
"We have been asking them to deal with Qaddafi's friends for a year," he said.
Diplomats in Tripoli have complained that holding the vote under duress has undermined its legitimacy, while a human-rights group called on parliament to reject the latest draft.
"This law is far too vague - potentially barring anyone who ever worked for the authorities during the four decades of Qaddafi's rule" said Sarah Leah Whitson, a Human Rights Watch director in the region.
While it remained unclear whether the new law applied to the prime minister, the leader of the assembly, Mohammed Magarief, a former ambassador, will have to step down, despite living in exile since the 1980s when he became a prominent figure in Libya's oldest opposition group.
Congress members say the law could be applied to about 40 others in the 200-member parliament.
The cabinet and Libya's official armed forces are so weak that swathes of the country remain outside central government control.
The gunmen who played a pivotal role in the revolt that toppled Qaddafi never left the capital and are more visible than Libya's military.
Soldiers stationed in the main square to protect a pro-government protest on Friday had left yesterday, although a number of army vehicles remained outside a central bank building nearby.