Libya’s parliament swore in a rival cabinet on Thursday in an attempt to oust the unity government, a move that has raised fears of another major schism in the war-torn country.
The assembly, based in eastern Libya, had last month commissioned former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to form a government.
It raised the prospect of a settlement with the Western, Tripoli-based administration of Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, who has refused to hand over power to anything other than an elected government.
And as a sign of rising tensions, Bashagha accused Dbeibah’s government of shutting down the country’s airspace, saying an “armed group” had imprisoned three pending ministers for blocking them from reaching Thursday’s ceremony.
“I condemn the unjustified escalation of certain parties that have prevented some ministers from being sworn in,” Bashagha told the assembly.
Insisting that his administration “seek peace through words and deeds”, he called on the group to release the ministers – Hafed Gaddur, Saleha al-Toumi and Faraj Khalil – and Bashagha’s nominees for foreign, culture and technical education posts.
Libya, which had plunged into violence after the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Moammar Gaddafi, has seen a year and a half of relative peace since a landmark 2020 ceasefire that ended a major battle between eastern and western factions.
Dbeibah was appointed a year ago as part of UN-led peace efforts and had been given the mandate to lead the country to the December 2020 elections.
But the votes were postponed indefinitely amid sharp disagreements over their legal basis and the presence of controversial candidates, including the eastern military chief plutist General Khalifa Haftar.
Last month, the Bashagha congregation – which, like Dbeibah, hails from the powerful city of Misrata – appointed a new government.
The 59-year-old former fighter pilot said in his inaugural speech on Thursday that “some sides want to drag us into war and battle – but we will not let them, and we will not spill a single drop of blood.”
But he insisted that he rule from Tripoli “with the force of law”.
On Tuesday, parliament had given its support to Bashagha’s proposed cabinet, in a vote of confidence that Dbeibah condemned as “obviously” fraudulent, lacking quorum and with some MPs counted as voting for even if they were absent.
UN chief Antonio Guterre’s office said on Wednesday that he was “concerned about reports that (the vote) did not meet the expected standards of transparency and procedures and included pre-session intimidation.”
And hours before he was sworn in on Thursday, Bashagha’s election as Economy and Trade Minister Jamal Salem left Shaaban, criticizing the vote as a lack of transparency and circumvention of parliamentary procedures.
“It would not be an honor to be part of a government that would wage war and destruction and bring the capital into a dark tunnel,” he said in a video carried by local media.
World powers had high hopes for elections as a way to draw a line during a decade of violence in Libya.
The UN’s top official in the country has referred to Libya’s political elite as political “dinosaurs” who hold on to power by preventing them from taking office.
Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to the country, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in February that rather than an East-West split, the main division is now “between the Libyan people, who want elections, and the political elite,” who do not. “
Dbeibah has repeatedly said his government would hold elections in June, while according to a roadmap adopted by parliament and backed by Bashagha, they would take place early next year.
Turkey has also often reiterated its support for Libya’s stability and efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation in the war-torn nation.
Turkey and Libya have seen closer ties in recent years, especially after signing security and maritime border pacts in November 2019, along with Turkey’s assistance to help the legitimate Libyan government push back Haftar’s forces.
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