TOBRUK, LIBYA (AP) – A rival Libyan prime minister said he plans to be in the country’s capital and seat his government there in a matter of days – even though a parallel administration opposing his is currently located in Tripoli.
Fathi Bashagha expressed his belief that the war-torn country could be unified without more fighting and that his government will focus on holding elections soon, the only way out of Libya’s decade-old conflict.
However, his statement is likely to add to fears that Libya’s two rival administrations are heading into a deeper confrontation and that the divisions signal a return to civil strife after more than a year of relative calm. On Thursday, the United Nations (UN) and the United States (US) urged restraint and expressed concern over reports of armed groups deploying in and around Tripoli.
“The sole political solution in Libya is to hold presidential and Parliamentary elections,” Bashagha said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday in the eastern city of Tobruk.
A former air force pilot and businessman, Bashagha was named prime minister last month by the House of Representatives, which has been based in Tobruk. The lawmakers selected Bashagha to replace embattled Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who is based in Tripoli, claiming Dbeibah’s mandate had expired after Libya failed to hold its first presidential elections in December.
The failure to hold the vote, which was scheduled for December 2021 under a UN-led reconciliation effort, was a major below to concerted international efforts to bring peace to the oil-rich North African nation. Bashagha’s appointment increased tensions and raised the possibility of renewed fighting in a country largely ruled by lawless militias and armed groups with conflicting interests.
Libya has been wrecked by chaos since a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-backed uprising toppled then killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. For years, it has been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by an array of militias and foreign governments.
Dbeibah has refused to step down and insists he will hand over power only to an elected government. He has sought to rally the international community by proposing a roadmap for Parliamentary elections in June.
Appointed himself by a UN-led process in March of 2021, Dbeibah has called the push to replace his government “reckless” and a “farce” orchestrated by the political class hanging on to power, saying it could lead to more war. He mobilised allied militias in the capital and has closed its airspace to domestic flights in an apparent move to prevent Bashagha and his government from landing there.