Clashes break out in Tripoli, alienating rival Libyan PM

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CAIRO (AP) — An attempt by one of Libya’s rival prime ministers to base his government in the capital of Tripoli sparked clashes Tuesday between rival militias, forcing the newly appointed prime minister to leave the city and highlighting the fragility of the situation in the nation wracked by chaos.

Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha’s office said he had arrived in Tripoli with several ministers from his cabinet early Tuesday, three months after he was appointed to head an interim government in the war-torn country.

His arrival is likely to fuel further tensions between rival Libyan administrations. In the morning, local media reported clashes between different militias and rival forces supporting the two sides in central Tripoli and in other parts of the city.

“We arrived in the capital in peace and security. The reception was excellent,” Bashagha said in earlier video comments, adding that his government was ready to work with all Libyans, including those who oppose him.

There was no comment on his arrival from the government of embattled Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, which is based in Tripoli.

Later on Tuesday, Bashagha’s office said he and his ministers left Tripoli “for the sake of citizens’ safety and to stop the bloodshed.”

UN special adviser on Libya Stephanie Williams urged calm and for the rival sides to enter into talks to resolve their disputes.

“The conflict cannot be resolved with violence, but with dialogue and mediation,” he tweeted, adding that the United Nations is ready to welcome all parties “to help Libya find a genuine and consensual path to stability and elections.” ”.

Bashagha, a former interior minister, was appointed prime minister by the country’s eastern parliament in February. But Dbeibah, a wealthy businessman, has refused to step down and insists he will hand over power only to an elected government. Both prime ministers hail from the powerful western city of Misrata.

Jalel Harchaoui, a Libyan researcher, said the violence that unfolded during Bashagha’s “brief presence inside Tripoli” reflected a “clear failure” by Dbeibah’s rival.

Dbeibah is supported by well-funded armed groups, not only in the capital but also in Misrata, who are fierce opponents of eastern-based military commander Khalifa Hifter, with whom Bashagha is now aligned, Harchaoui said.

Over the weekend, rival militias also clashed in the Janzour neighborhood of Tripoli. No casualties were reported, but local authorities said there was damage to infrastructure, including a power plant.

The UN mission in Libya condemned the clashes, saying they involved “indiscriminate fire and the alleged use of heavy weapons” in the densely populated neighborhood.

Lawmakers have argued that Dbeibah’s term expired after Libya failed to hold presidential elections in December as planned under a UN-brokered deal.

The fact that the vote did not take place dealt a heavy blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya. It opened a new chapter in Libya’s long political stalemate, with rival governments claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.

The oil-rich country has been wracked by conflict since the NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Since then, Libya has been divided for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each one supported by different militias and foreign governments. .

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