Libya’s toothless outgoing government admitted Monday from its safe refuge in the east of the country that it has in effect lost control of Tripoli to armed militias.
The interim government led by prime minister Abdullah al-Thani, which resigned last week, said armed groups, mostly Islamist militias, were in control of ministries and blocking access to government workers.
“Ministry and state offices in Tripoli have been occupied by armed militias who are preventing government workers from entering and are threatening their superiors,” the government said in a statement.
It said the interim government was in contact with officials and “trying to ensure the continuity of services from afar”.
Libya has been sliding into chaos since Moamer Kadhafi was overthrown and killed three years ago, with interim authorities confronting powerful militias which fought to oust the veteran dictator.
The government announced last week it had tendered its resignation to parliament, days after a rival Islamist administration was created.
The parliament, which was elected in June, and the government are operating out of eastern Libya for security reasons.
A rival body, the General National Congress, has named pro-Islamist figure Omar al-Hassi to form a “salvation government”.
The elected parliament voted on Monday to task Thani with forming a streamlined new government, the official news agency Lana reported.
He was named to form an 18-member team, down from the outgoing lineup’s number of around 30, it said, adding that seven of the new ministers would put together a crisis cabinet.
Interim authorities have been steadily losing ground to the militias and the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) mainly Islamist alliance, which seized Tripoli airport on August 22 after weeks of fierce fighting with nationalist rivals.
On Sunday, Islamist militiamen moved into the US embassy compound in Tripoli that was evacuated in late July, with videos showing cheering men diving from an upstairs balcony into a swimming pool.
Fajr Libya members said they had gone in to secure the complex of several villas in southern Tripoli, not far from the airport, to prevent it from being looted.
– Political deadlock –
US Ambassador Deborah Jones, now posted in Malta, said on Twitter that there was no indication the complex had been damaged.
Several foreign missions have fled in the face of growing security problems in Tripoli.
On August 25, Thani accused Fajr Libya militiamen, who hail mostly from the city of Misrata east of the capital, of having ransacked and set ablaze his residence in southern Tripoli where the airport is also located.
A political transition has been stymied by the deadlock pitting Fajr Libya against the internally exiled authorities, which are operating from Tobruk, 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) from the capital.
Fajr Libya rejects the legitimacy of the elected parliament because it allegedly supported air raids last month — which US officials said were carried out by the United Arab Emirates — against its fighters in the airport area before they defeated nationalist militia rivals.
Parliament has in turned branded Fajr Libya as “terrorists”, putting them in the same boat as the Ansar al-Sharia jihadists who control most of second city Benghazi.
In the eastern city on Monday, 10 soldiers were killed when jihadist gunmen tried to advance on Benina dual civilian-military airport but were repelled with air force help, an army spokesman said.
Pro-Islamist Libyan media, meanwhile, reported that some 30 Libyans were arrested in the United Arab Emirates following the Tripoli air raids.
Media, including television channel An-Nabaa, said among those arrested were businessmen with long-standing ties to the UAE, including some from Misrata.
It was unclear why they were being held, the reports said, but the oil-rich Gulf monarchy looks upon Islamist militants in the region as a serious threat and last month toughened its anti-terrorism laws.