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Rival Governments Vie for Control of Libya

  • Edward Yeranian

FILE - A member of the force assigned to protect Libya's unity government stands at the entrance to where the government has their offices, in Tripoli, Libya, April 14, 2016.

FILE - A member of the force assigned to protect Libya's unity government stands at the entrance to where the government has their offices, in Tripoli, Libya, April 14, 2016.

Tensions reached a boiling point in the Libyan capital Monday, as rival militia groups waged a low-level turf war in a political battle between the U.N.-backed "national unity" government of Fayez al-Sarraj and the unrecognized, Islamist-supported government of Khalifa Ghweil.

Militia forces loyal to Ghweil , who call themselves the Presidential Guard, seized some government buildings over the weekend, although Ghweil claimed in an interview with Arab televison that he was not trying to stop the "unity" government from having access to them. The Rixos Hotel, which the country's former legislative body, the General National Council considers to be its home, is under the control of Ghweil-forces, and they appear to be preventing the "unity" government from using it.

Libyan TV broadcast a statement by members of the guard, saying they support Ghweil and the GNC and asserting the unity government is an attempt to place Libya under a new military dictatorship.

Ghweil, who is supported by the hardline Islamist mufti of Tripoli, seized control of the old governmental palace, called the "guest palace," and several other government ministries, but insisted that "he did not want to spill any Libyan blood."

Ghweil told Arab media that he had not retaken the government buildings by force, but by "popular will." He also claimed that he had contacted rival Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni in Tobruk in order to form a new government "together."

Ghweil argued the Sarraj "unity" government was a failure, and his actions were necessary to reassert control in order to keep the country financially stable. Presidential Guard militiamen who seized government buildings in Ghweil's name have reportedly not been paid in six months.

The U.N. special envoy for Libya, Martin Kobler, tweeted Monday he was "saddened by civilian casualties in Tripoli" and at a government airbase. He went on to call for unity in the country.

Libyan political analyst Khaled Sharaf told state TV the situation in the country had "returned to square one."

He says the unity government has not done anything for the country and it has not even visited most towns and cities. He stressed that the situation in the capital Tripoli is "confused" and it is possible rival militias might resort to arms and ignite a new civil war.

Libya has been in turmoil since the NATO-backed overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

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