Clashes erupted in the Libyan capital Tripoli last night between forces fighting for rival prime ministers, amid decreased hopes of an election and the deteriorating political crisis in the country.
According to local media, military sources confirmed that intense fighting had taken place between rival militias and armed forces around government buildings and prominent areas in the city throughout the night, which included the use of heavy artillery shelling. So far, at least seven people have reportedly been killed in the fighting.
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The clashes took place after militias aligned with the Government of National Unity (GNU) set up defences in areas surrounding Tripoli, including closing roads up to 160 kilometres east near the city of Zliten, in an effort to prevent forces loyal to the eastern-based prime ministerial candidate Fathi Bashagha from reaching the capital.
Bashagha’s attempt to forcefully take Tripoli comes after months of tensions with the western-based prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who has served as the interim premier of the new unified Libyan government which was established last year after eastern forces failed in their attempt to capture the western capital the previous year.
After the country’s elections – which were set for last December – failed to take place due to disagreements between the two sides, the national parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk appointed Bashagha as the new prime minister. Dbeibah, however, has repeatedly refused to relinquish his position, insisting that he will only step down once a candidate is properly elected.
In recent months, there have been previous attempts by Bashagha-aligned militias to enter Tripoli, which have been unsuccessful. Until now, the eastern premier has claimed he would only enter the city by law and not by force. Those tensions reached their height this week, though, with Bashagha reiterating his call for Dbeibah to step down and threatening to enter the capital by force.
The clashes have revived fears of a renewed civil war in Libya after a short and fragile period of calm in the country. The situation is despite efforts by the US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland to reduce tensions, having yesterday met with representatives of the eastern-based parliament on and discussing “maintaining calm until Libyans choose their leadership through elections.”