National Salvation government forces have seized at least three ministries in Libya’s capital, following the current UN-backed government’s year-long failure to bring stability and order back to the war-torn country.
The leader of the group, Khalifa Ghwell, confirmed that his forces seized control of the ministries of defence, labour and the “martyrs and the wounded” ministry, which looks after the families of the aforementioned. He also declared himself “Prime Minister of Libya”.
Ghwell’s group was formed by the outgoing parliament after a dispute in 2014 about the transfer of power which led to the establishment of rival governments.
The UN helped establish a third government in Tripoli last year under Fayez Al-Sarraj in the hopes he could unify Libya and lead the fight against “Islamist extremists”.
However, a spokesman for Al-Sarraj’s government, Ashraf Tulty, dismissed the takeover, stating that the group was just “trying to sow chaos [and] they have no means to control.”
Tulty further explained how the ministry buildings that Ghwell claims to have seized are either under maintenance, not controlled by Al-Sarraj’s government, or were seized only briefly before being let go.
“This is nothing more than a media hoax,” Tulty said. “They are trying to sabotage the only internationally recognised government in Libya.”
In a speech aired on television, Ghwell said that past arrangements brokered by the UN were “invalid” and described Al-Sarraj’s government as “expired”.
The self-declared prime minister referred to his forces as the “Presidential Guard”, stating that he ordered them to secure the capital and warned other militias to stand down. He also renewed calls for new talks to ensue among Libyan factions away from the presence of foreign mediators.
“We are the ones with legitimacy,” Ghwell explained. “We extend our hands to our Libyan rivals,” before adding “God’s law will rule among us.”
Ghwell’s earlier government has previously been linked with Islamist groups, including some hard-line factions.
Ghwell further stated how conditions in Libya have gone “from bad to worse” in the year since Al-Sarraj’s government was formed.
Referring to the cash crisis, Ghwell blamed Libya’s economic woes on disputes between Al-Sarraj and the head of the central bank who declined to release funds needed to run the UN-brokered government since March.
The central bank this month approved a $26 billion annual state budget.
“We gave him a year, and when he failed, we decided to return [to power],” Ghwell told AP before advising people to “wait, and you will see what happens in the coming days” when pressed on logistical questions.