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Rival government’s forces seize ministries from UN-backed Libyan PM

The National Salvation Government, headed by Khalifa Ghweil, sent gunmen to storm the defence, labour and martyrs ministries belonging to the UN-backed Government of National Accord
Khalifa Ghweil delivers a speech in Tripoli's Martyr's Square on August 13, 2016. Mahmud Turkia/AFP
Khalifa Ghweil delivers a speech in Tripoli's Martyr's Square on August 13, 2016. Mahmud Turkia/AFP

Forces loyal to a Libyan administration rivalling the UN-backed government seized three ministries in the capital Tripoli on Thursday, further complicating the country’s intractable chaos.

The National Salvation Government, headed by Khalifa Ghweil, sent gunmen to storm the defence, labour and martyrs ministries belonging to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Once there the gunmen met no resistance and Mr Ghweil declared that his government had returned to power.

Mr Ghweil said he took the action because conditions in the country have gone “from bad to worse” in the year since the GNA was formed, with militia violence, kidnappings, power and water cuts, food and petrol shortages all commonplace in Tripoli.

The seizures occurred while GNA prime minister Fayez Al Serraj was out of the country on a pre-planned visit to Egypt.

Existing government officials were left confused by the seizures, along with many Tripoli residents. Most civilians were unaware the bloodless takeover had happened even hours afterwards.

The ministry captures took place just two days after Italy became the first European country to reopen its embassy in Tripoli since civil war broke out there in July 2014.

The GNA has been struggling to win public support since first arriving in the city in March last year. In an initial success it managed to displace the National Salvation Government which had been in control at the time, with many officials transferring allegiance to the GNA.

Since then, however, the GNA has failed to persuade Libya’s elected parliament – the House of Representatives which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk – to back it, and the body has its own government operating independently from the other two.

Mr Ghweil’s action comes after months of tension between him and Mr Al Serraj.

In October last year Mr Ghweil, backed by several militias, seized Tripoli’s government complex and adjacent Rixos hotel from the GNA in an apparent attempted coup. But while it managed to wrest control of the buildings, it failed to dislodge the GNA from Tripoli.

Mr Al Serraj has ordered the National Salvation Government to vacate the Rixos and complex but despite a series of militia firefights in the area, Mr Ghweil has maintained the buildings as a base.

The United Nations Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) condemned Mr Ghweil’s capture of the Rixos and is expected to condemn the latest seizures.

Thursday’s takeover comes amid a background of rising chaos across Libya. The GNA suffered a heavy blow in September when Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, commander of forces loyal to the Tobruk parliament, captured four key oil ports, giving the parliament control of the bulk of Libya’s oil industry.

Meanwhile, the GNA has failed to take control of Tripoli’s militias, who have been engaged in increasingly bitter skirmishes for territory and power in the capital.

On January 2 Musa Al Koni, one of the GNA’s 9-strong presidency, resigned, claiming the government had failed to halt “killing, kidnapping and rape”, all of which are endemic in the Libyan capital. Two more presidency members are boycotting the council, reducing it to six members.

Mr Al Koni’s resignation came the day after another council member, Fathi Al Majbari, took advantage of another trip abroad made by Mr Al Serraj to announce a string of new cabinet ministers – appointments that the prime minister cancelled days later on his return.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Updated: January 12, 2017 04:00 AM

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