Libya: Newly appointed PM enters Tripoli and ignites tensions between rival factions
Clashes erupted in Libya's capital on Tuesday as the parliament-appointed prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, arrived to try to take control of the government from a rival administration that has refused to cede power.
Bashagha's effort to break two months of stalemate between rival administrations risks plunging Libya back into prolonged fighting after two years of comparative peace, or returning it to territorial partition.
The stalemate has already led to a partial blockade of Libya's oil facilities, cutting its main source of foreign revenue by half.
Diplomacy to resolve the crisis or lay the ground for new elections is making slow progress.
The sound of heavy weapons and automatic gunfire crashed across the capital on Tuesday morning, as schools were cancelled and the normally heavy rush hour traffic was sparse.
However, in central areas, away from the clashes on the northeast side of Tripoli, there was little evidence of military activity with the government of Bashagha's rival Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah still in apparent control.
Bashagha had entered Tripoli overnight accompanied by allied fighters in the hope of taking over government but was quickly met by opposition from forces aligned with Dbeibah, who was appointed through a UN-backed process last year.
Dbeibah's office released a statement saying it would carry on its duties from inside the capital.
Libya has had little security since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi and it split in 2014 between rival eastern and western factions before a 2020 truce that brought it under a fragile unity government.
1/3 The United States is highly concerned by reports of armed clashes in Tripoli. We urge all armed groups to refrain from violence and for political leaders to recognize that seizing or retaining power through violence will only hurt the people of #Libya. pic.twitter.com/bWMZ54L9QD— U.S. Embassy - Libya (@USEmbassyLibya) May 17, 2022
A plan to hold an election in December collapsed amid arguments among major factions and prominent candidates over the rules and the parliament, which had sided with the east during the war, moved to appoint a new administration.
The unity government's prime minister, Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, rejected the parliament's moves saying his administration was still valid and he would only hand over power after an election.
Bashagha, a former interior minister who like Dbeibah comes from the powerful coastal city of Misrata, has repeatedly said he would enter Tripoli without violence. His previous attempts to do so ended with his convoy blocked by rival factions.
Last week, the parliament said Bashagha's government could work for now from Sirte, a central city near the frozen front line between eastern and western factions.