Rival Libyan government takes office amid rising tensions

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Libya’s parliament was sworn in on Thursday to a rival cabinet in a bid to overthrow the unity government, a move that has raised fears of another major schism in the war-torn country.

The assembly, based in eastern Libya, tasked former interior minister Fathi Bashagha last month with forming a government.

This has raised the prospect of a confrontation with the western administration of Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, based in Tripoli, which has refused to hand over power to anything other than an elected government.

And in a sign of growing tensions, Bashagha accused Dbeibah’s government of shutting down the country’s airspace and said an “armed group” had arrested three waiting ministers to prevent them from reaching Thursday’s ceremony.

“I condemn the unjustified escalation by some parties which prevented some ministers from taking the oath,” Bashagha told the assembly.

Insisting that his administration “seeks peace through words and deeds”, he urged the group to release the ministers – Hafed Gaddur, Saleha al-Toumi and Faraj Khalil – appointed respectively by Bashagha to the foreign affairs posts, culture and technical education.

Libya, which plunged into violence after the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has enjoyed a year and a half of relative peace since a historic 2020 ceasefire ending a major factional battle eastern and western.

Dbeibah was appointed a year ago as part of United Nations-led peace efforts and given the mandate to lead the country to elections in December 2020.

But the elections have been postponed indefinitely amid sharp divisions over their legal basis and the presence of controversial candidates, including putschist military leader in the east, General Khalifa Haftar.

Last month, the assembly appointed Bashagha – who, like Dbeibah, hails from the powerful city of Misrata – to lead a new government.

The 59-year-old former fighter pilot said in his inaugural address on Thursday that “some sides want to drag us into war and fighting – but we won’t let them and we won’t shed a single drop of blood.”

But he insisted he would rule from Tripoli “by force of law”.

Parliament had backed Bashagha’s proposed cabinet on Tuesday, in a vote of confidence Dbeibah condemned as “manifestly” fraudulent, lacking a quorum and with some MPs counted as voting for even though they were absent.

UN chief Antonio Guterres’ office said on Wednesday it was “concerned by reports that (the vote) failed to meet expected transparency and procedural standards and included acts of intimidation before the session”.

And hours before being sworn in on Thursday, Bashagha’s choice for Economy and Trade Minister Jamal Salem Shaaban resigned, criticizing the vote as lacking transparency and circumventing parliamentary procedures.

“It would not be an honor to be part of a government that would bring war and destruction and take the capital down a dark tunnel,” he said in a video released by local media.

World powers had pinned high hopes on the elections as a way to end a decade of violence in Libya.

The top UN official in the country called Libya’s political elite political “dinosaurs” who cling to power by preventing it from taking place.

Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to the country, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in February that instead of an east-west split, the main division now “is between the Libyan people, who want elections, and the political elite, who don’t.”

Dbeibah has repeatedly said that his government will hold elections in June, while under a roadmap adopted by parliament and backed by Bashagha, they would be held early next year.

Turkey has also frequently reiterated its support for Libya’s stability and efforts to achieve reconciliation in the war-torn country.

Turkey and Libya have enjoyed closer ties in recent years, especially after the signing of security and maritime border pacts in November 2019, as well as Turkish aid to help the legitimate Libyan government push back forces. of Haftar.

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