Libya cabinet reshuffle imminent amid militia standoff

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Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan announced on Wednesday a cabinet reshuffle “in the coming days,” against the backdrop of the country's latest political crisis, sparked by former rebels besieging two ministries.

“There will no doubt be a ministerial reshuffle in the coming days,” he told a press conference.

The announcement comes days after the National General Congress adopted a law that would bar collaborators of ousted and slain dictator Moamer Qaddafi from holding government posts.

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

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

At least four ministers and 15 lawmakers also risk losing their jobs once the GNC's legal commission ratifies the law.

Zeidan did not say whether the reshuffle would be to apply the new law or to give posts to members of the militias, who claim to have been promised five portfolios, including those of defense and interior.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Mohammed al-Barghati actually resigned, but rescinded his decision at the urging of the prime minister.

Zeidan defended the gunmen as “thowars” (revolutionaries), who fought to oust Qaddafi in 2011, but he insisted that the siege of the ministries must be lifted soon.

“In Libya, we don't have militias, we have the thowars,” said the premier, whose resignation some of them have demanded.

The gunmen surrounded the foreign ministry on April 28 and the justice ministry two days later to demand that the exclusion law finally be passed after repeated delays.

Some of the fighters have pulled back, Zeidan said, referring to the fact that earlier in the day militiamen withdrew pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns and anti-aircraft weapons from outside the foreign and justice ministries.

“Some of them are now trying to correct and repair what has taken place,” he said, adding that he hoped for “a total withdrawal very soon” and reiterating that force would not be used.

But protesters in military uniform were still outside the two ministries after the pullback on Wednesday.

The withdrawal came a day after residents living around the foreign ministry in central Tripoli protested in front of the building against the presence of weapons in their area.

Mohamed Soula, who had come from the western town of Sabratha and claimed to have fought to oust Qaddafi, said “we want to cleanse the foreign and justice ministries in Libya. There are no more weapons. From now on, it will be a peaceful protest.”

After the end of the conflict in Libya, the former rebels were hailed as heroes for their part in toppling Qaddafi.

Since then, they have formed militias with different ideologies and motivations. Today they stand accused of many of the country's ills, notably the instability that still plagues parts of the north African nation.

They received salaries and perks from the transitional government, in addition to reportedly benefiting from smuggling and extortion with impunity.

The government regularly promises to be firm with “illegal militias” but, to “save lives,” has avoided any use of force.

Politicians often manipulate the former rebels, although no political party or group has openly claimed responsibility for the armed protest movement.

However, some observers and politicians have pointed the finger at the Muslim Brotherhood, which was behind the controversial exclusion law.

They have also sought to bar their rivals, particularly Mahmud Jibril, who heads the liberal National Forces Alliance that dominated last July's elections.

Concerned by the continuing instability, the U.S., French and British embassies issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling on “all Libyans to refrain from armed protest and violence during this difficult time in the democratic transition.”

“It is vital that the country's institutions operate free from armed intimidation,” the statement added.

“The international community is observing the country with concern during this critical time in the transition,” the embassies noted, urging Libyans to support their democratically elected leaders.

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