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Clashes erupt in Tripoli, drive rival Libyan PM away

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CAIRO — An attempt by one of Libya’s rival prime ministers to install his government in the capital of Tripoli sparked clashes on Tuesday between competing militias, forcing the newly appointed prime minister out of the city and underscoring the fragility of the situation in the chaos-stricken nation.

Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha’s office said he arrived in Tripoli with a number of his cabinet ministers early on Tuesday – three months after he was appointed to lead an interim government in the war-torn country.

His arrival was likely to fuel further tensions between Libya’s rival administrations. In the morning, local media reported clashes between different militias and rival forces supporting the two sides in central Tripoli and elsewhere in the city.

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

There has been no comment on his arrival from beleaguered Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s government, which is based in Tripoli.

Later Tuesday, Bashagha’s office said he and his ministers had left Tripoli “in the interests of the safety and security of the citizens and to stop the bloodshed”.

UN Special Adviser on Libya Stephanie Williams called for calm and for rival parties to engage in talks to resolve their differences.

“Conflicts cannot be resolved through violence, but through dialogue and mediation,” she tweeted, adding that the United Nations stands ready to welcome all parties “to help Libya find a genuine and consensus 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, refused to step down, insisting he would hand over power only to an elected government. Both prime ministers hail from the powerful western city of Misrata.

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

Dbeibah enjoys the support of 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 Tripoli’s Janzour neighborhood. No casualties were reported, but local authorities said infrastructure was damaged, including a power station.

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

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

The failure to hold the vote was a blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya. It opened a new chapter in Libya’s long-running political stalemate, with rival governments clamoring for power after wavering moves towards unity over the past year.

The oil-rich country has been wracked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. For years, Libya has been divided between rival administrations in the east and to the west, each backed by different militias and foreign governments. .

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