Dozens of vehicles mounted with heavy weapons surround the ministry of foreign affairs in Tripoli, demanding the removal of officials who had worked under the late leader, Muammar Qaddafi. Alice Fordham reports
Armed Libyans surround ministry demanding purge of Qaddafi's men
Dozens of vehicles mounted with heavy weapons surrounded the ministry of foreign affairs in the Libyan capital yesterday, demanding the removal of officials who had worked under the late leader, Muammar Qaddafi.
Men who fought two years ago in the rebel brigades that dislodged the 42-year regime of Qaddafi blocked all streets close to the building, which is on Tripoli's Mediterranean waterfront in a upmarket part of town, according to the country's Libyan News Agency.
Pictures posted on Twitter showed guns mounted on the back of lorries surrounding the building, although witnesses and local news reports said no shots were fired.
The fighters, who the Libya Herald newspaper reported were from the anti-Qaddafi strongholds of Misurata, Souq Al Jumaa and Tajoura, were calling for the immediate implementation of a controversial piece of legislation called the political isolation law.
Under the law, which has been in the process of preparation for several months but has not yet been passed, anyone who held government office during the rule of Qaddafi would be prevented from holding office for the next 10 years.
Analysts have criticised the law as impractical and unfair: Libya has a small population, many of whom are employed as civil servants and government employees. Some contend that firing them would impede the work of government, as well as leave hundreds of people jobless, and that the vague wording could leave innocent people vulnerable to dismissal on inaccurate charges.
As well as surrounding the foreign affairs ministry , armed groups also tried unsuccessfully to storm the ministry of the interior and the state news agency on Sunday, the prime minister said. "These attacks will never get us down and we will not surrender," prime minister Ali Zaidan told a news conference yesterday.
The incident is the latest in a series of armed demonstrations calling for the implementation of the law. Amnesty International reported last month that a large group of unidentified men stormed Al Assema Television, a private channel, after it broadcast a debate about the law, and abducted four men, two of whom were still missing.
On March 5, the General National Congress - the interim body of parliamentarians whose primary job is to oversee the writing of a new constitution - was interrupted by hundreds of protesters who prevented the lawmakers from leaving the building. Some of them shot at the president, Mohammed Magarief.
"Libyan parliamentarians and media should be allowed to debate and report on public interest issues without any restrictions and in safety," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy Middle East and North Africa programme director.
Abdulrahman Swehli, a politician from Misurata, said he supported the message of the demonstrators - though not their method.
"The demands are very clear," he said. "For the ministry to be cleaned of the remnants of the Qaddafi people, it is very necessary."
The uprising against Qaddafi will not have achieved its goals, Mr Swehli said, until all the people who worked for him have been removed.
He particularly cited the continuing employment of Ali Al Aujali, who last month stepped down from his long-term post as the ambassador to the United States, as a cause for concern. He added that he did not believe it would be difficult to find people to fill the vacated positions, and that only two or three hundred people would be likely to be asked to leave.
"I expect this to spread to other ministries unless we do something about the political isolation law very quickly to calm the situation," he warned.