Last updated: 6 May, 2013

Libya gunmen besieging ministries demand government quits

Gunmen in Libya’s Tripoli kept up their siege of ministries on Tuesday despite the adoption of a law to purge Kadhafi-era officials from their posts, with some demanding the government’s resignation.

Different groups at the justice and foreign ministries, however, failed to reach a shared position on their new demands or their reasons for pressing the siege.

“We are determined to continue our movement until the departure of (Prime Minister) Ali Zeidan,” said Osama Kaabar, a leader of the militias who had promised to lift their siege if the law was passed.

The General National Congress, under pressure from the gunmen, on Sunday passed the controversial law to exclude former Kadhafi regime officials from public posts in a move that could see the premier removed from office.

An AFP correspondent reported that armed men in vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft weapons still surrounded the foreign and justice ministries on Monday.

“The adoption of the law on political exclusion is a major step in the right direction. But we will take our time to examine certain aspects of the law,” said Kaabar who is also a vice president of the Superior Council of Libyan Tuwwar (revolutionaries).

“On the other hand we are determined to bring down the government of Ali Zeidan,” he said, accusing the premier of “provoking the thuwar,” former rebels who fought Kadhafi during the 2011 uprising.

Zeidan’s government launched a campaign a few weeks ago to remove the militias from the capital Tripoli.

“We hope that Ali Zeidan recognises his inability (to govern),” said Kaabar, a former rebel close to Islamists.

“We reject any dialogue with the government,” he said when asked about negotiations with the government.

But at the justice ministry, some of the gunmen said that they were dismantling their camps.

“We are waiting for someone from the ministry to come to hand the building over to them,” Dhirar Baraou, one of the militiamen, said.

Another militia leader told AFP that the protesters were “divided” over the demands, and that some were content with the adoption of the law.

In Washington, Patrick Ventrell, deputy spokesman of the State Department, said the United States supported “a peaceful transition to a full democracy in Libya, and democracy cannot develop – and I said this a couple times last week – in the context of political intimidation.

“So we urge the Libyan people and their representatives to determine the future of their country through healthy debate and deliberation of draft legislation.

“And we’ve had some concerns about militias and said that the – it’s important that the Libyan Government bring them all under Libyan Government control.”

This was something the United States had “long urged and that the Libyan Government continues to work toward.”

Under the law passed Sunday, all those who held key posts from September 1, 1969 when Kadhafi took power, until the fall of his regime in October 2011 will be excluded from government.

The ban will remain in force for 10 years, according to the text.

The draft law had caused a stir among Libya’s political elite, as senior members of the government could be affected, among them Zeidan and GNC president Mohamed Megaryef.

Both were diplomats under Kadhafi before joining the opposition in exile.

At least four ministers and 15 lawmakers also risk loosing their jobs once the GNC’s legal commission ratifies the law, including the vice president of the national assembly Jomaa Atiga, an official said.

The gunmen, many former rebels who helped topple Kadhafi, had encircled the foreign ministry for a week and the justice ministry since Tuesday to pressure the national assembly to pass the law.

They vowed to stand their ground and expand their action unless their demands were satisfied, and warned against any GNC attempt to make exceptions to allow key individuals to keep their jobs.

Before Sunday’s vote the GNC, Libya’s national assembly and top political body, had debated the law several times without reaching an agreement.

The bill proved particularly controversial with the National Forces Alliance, the liberal coalition that dominated elections in July, who feared it was aimed at their leader Mahmud Jibril who headed an economic council under Kadhafi.

Since the fall of Kadhafi’s regime, militia groups, mostly former rebels, have managed strategic facilities and vital institutions.

They received salaries and other perks, in addition to reportedly benefiting from smuggling and extortion.

Leaders of the former rebel militias said on Saturday the government had agreed to give five ministries over to their members.

So far it is not clear who is behind the protest movement, although some Libyan observers have pointed the finger at the country’s Islamists, who have been keen supporters of the law to exclude ex-Kadhafi officials.