Libyan militias loyal to new Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq, who is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, stormed the prime minister’s office on Monday ahead of a planned Supreme Court session to adjudicate the dispute between him and interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.
Al-Thinni last week refused to hand power to Maiteeq because of questions over his appointment, and demanded that divided lawmakers resolve the political standoff.
Thinni referred to a decision by a justice ministry legal department that ruled Maiteeq’s election early this month was illegal.
The Supreme Court was due to reconsider the case on Thursday, but before it does, Maiteeq’s allies moved Monday to impose a fait accompli.
The Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani, known to be close to Islamist lawmakers and Maiteeq, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, urging support for Maiteeq.
Islamist militias from the Libya Shield Force were quick to respond, storming the prime minister’s office. The military move was followed by a statement by Maiteeq’s government announcing that it had taken office.
Maiteeq said in a statement that he had convened his ministers for the first time since his disputed election in May, amid an ongoing power struggle in Tripoli.
Maiteeq is Libya's fifth prime minister since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 uprising.
The developments came as violence escalated in the eastern city of Benghazi between the Libyan army loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militias, including the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shariah.
Combat helicopters belonging to forces loyal to Haftar - who wants to purge Libya of Islamist militants - supported the army in the worst fighting in months, according to Reuters.
At least 20 people were killed and 67 wounded in Benghazi alone, hospital doctors said. Some 18 wounded were reported in al-Marj, a town east of Benghazi, where fighting also broke out, medical sources said.
Libya is in protracted turmoil three years after the NATO-backed war that ousted Muammar Qaddafi, with Islamist, anti-Islamist, regional and political factions locked in conflict.
The Ansar al-Shariah militant group attacked a camp on Monday belonging to army special forces, residents there said. Haftar’s forces joined the battle taking place in residential areas with frightened families staying indoors. Schools and universities were closed, Reuters reported.
Special army troops were also seen moving reinforcements to the area of fighting in the west of Libya’s second-largest city.
Haftar started a campaign to battle Islamists two weeks ago. Since then, public life has come almost to a standstill in the city, home to several oil companies. Its airport is closed.
On Sunday, a warplane belonging to Haftar bombed a university faculty while trying to attack a nearby Islamist camp. Two people were wounded.
The government, rival militia brigades and political factions rejected Haftar’s offensive against militants as an
attempted coup after his forces also stormed parliament a week ago.
Ansar al-Shariah, listed as a terrorist group by Washington, warned the United States last week against interfering in Libya’s crisis and accused Washington of backing Haftar.
Qaddafi’s one-man rule, followed by three years of unrest, have left Libya with few functioning institutions and no real national army to impose authority on the competing militias and brigades of former rebels who have become power-brokers.
[With Reuters]SHOW MORE