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Libyan militias clash; premier flees capital

by The Associated Press | May 18, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Forces loyal to Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, one of Libya?s two rival prime ministers, secure the streets of the capital, Tripoli, Tuesday May, 17, 2022. Clashes broke out in Tripoli after Dbeibah?s rival, Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha, announced his arrival in the city on Tuesday morning. But Bashagha left soon after the fighting started. (AP Photo/Yousef Murad)

CAIRO -- An attempt by one of Libya's rival prime ministers to seat his government in the capital of Tripoli triggered clashes Tuesday between competing militias, forcing the newly appointed premier to leave the city.

The two rival prime ministers blamed each other for the escalation.

Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha's office said he had arrived in Tripoli with a number of Cabinet ministers early Tuesday -- three months after his appointment to lead an interim government.

The move was likely to fuel more tensions between Libya's rival administrations and in the morning, local media reported clashes between different militias and rival forces in central Tripoli and elsewhere in the city.

The Tripoli-based government of embattled Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah slammed Bashagha, describing Tuesday's developments as an armed group's "desperate attempt to spread terror and chaos" in the Libyan capital -- a reference to Bashagha.

Debeibah was seen inspecting damage caused by the fighting in Tripoli and chatting with residents in the streets, according to local media.

Residents reported hearing heavy gunfire across the city.

Bashagha's office said he and his ministers later left Tripoli "for the sake of the security and safety of citizens and to stop the bloodshed." Bashagha tweeted that they had entered the city "peacefully, without using violence" but were met with a "dangerous military escalation" from armed groups loyal to his rival.

Both governments reported that at least one man was killed by gunfire and five others hurt.

A Western diplomat in Tripoli said Bashagha entered the city accompanied by the Nawasi Brigade militia but they faced stiff resistance from militias loyal to Dbeibah.

Another militia, known as the 444 Brigades, mediated between the rivals and facilitated the withdrawal of Bashagha, according to the diplomat, who demanded anonymity.

The U.N. special adviser on Libya, Stephanie Williams, urged calm and for rival parties to engage in talks to resolve their disputes.

"Conflict cannot be solved with violence, but with dialogue and mediation," she tweeted, adding that the United Nations is ready to host all parties "in helping Libya find a genuine, consensual way forward towards stability and elections."

Bashagha, a former interior minister, was named prime minister by the country's east-based parliament in February. But Dbeibah, a wealthy businessman, has refused to step down, insisting he will hand over power only to an elected government. Dbeibah was appointed last year in a U.N.-led process, mired with alleged corruption and bribery, to lead the country through elections in December that never took place.

Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya researcher, said the violence that unfolded during Bashagha's brief presence inside Tripoli reflected his "clear failure."The U.S. Embassy urged Libya's rivals to agree on a "constitutional basis leading to presidential and parliamentary elections in a realistic but aggressive timeframe."

Print Headline: Libyan militias clash; premier flees capital

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