On Tuesday, clashes erupted in Libya’s capital as Fathi Bashagha, the parliament’s nominated prime minister, attempted to seize control of the government from a rival administration that refused to relinquish power.
After two months of stalemate between Libya’s warring administrations, Bashagha reached Tripoli overnight, but retreated hours later as fighting rocked the capital, according to his office.
After two years of relative peace, the situation threatens plunging Libya back into long-term fighting, or dividing the country between the eastern-backed government of Bashagha and a Tripoli administration led by Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah.
The clashes has already resulted in a partial embargo of Libya’s oil infrastructure, thereby halving the country’s main source of foreign money. Diplomacy to end the impasse or pave the way for new elections is progressing slowly.
On Tuesday morning, the sound of heavy weapons and automatic shooting echoed throughout the capital, as schools were closed and the normally congested rush hour traffic was light.
However, in central regions of Tripoli, distant from the northeastern conflicts, there was no evidence of military activity, with Bashagha’s adversary Dbeibah’s administration still in apparent control.
Bashagha had infiltrated Tripoli overnight with allied fighters in the hopes of seizing power, but was greeted with fierce resistance from forces loyal to Dbeibah, who was appointed last year through a UN-backed procedure.
Bashagha’s office first stated that his government would carry out its duties from within the city, but then clarified that he and his accompanying ministers would leave to avoid civilian fatalities.
Bashagha’s previous attempts to reach Tripoli had ended amicably when his convoy was driven back by Dbeibah-aligned forces.
Since the NATO-backed rebellion that removed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has had minimal stability, and it divided in 2014 between rival eastern and western factions before a 2020 compromise that placed it under a precarious unity government.
The parliament, which had sided with the east during the war, rushed to select a new administration after a proposal to hold an election in December collapsed amid disagreements over the rules among major factions and important candidates.
Dbeibah, the prime minister of the unity government, disputed the parliament’s actions, claiming that his administration was still valid and that he would only take over power after an election.
Bashagha, a former interior minister from the powerful coastal city of Misrata like Dbeibah, has stated repeatedly that he will approach Tripoli peacefully. His prior attempts were unsuccessful due to other forces blocking his convoy.
The parliament agreed last week that Bashagha’s government may work from Sirte, a central city near the frozen front line between eastern and western factions, for the time being.
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