CAIRO -- One of Libya’s rival prime ministers said Wednesday he would seat his government in the central city of Sirte, after clashes forced him to abort his attempt the previous day to bring his Cabinet to the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha announced that he has chosen the city of Sirte, along Libya’s Mediterranean coast and half way between the country’s east and west, serving as a link between them.
Oil-rich Libya has been wrecked by conflict since the NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and has for years since been split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
Bashagha, a former interior minister, was named prime minister by the country’s east-based parliament in February. But his rival, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, based in Tripoli, in the country's west, has refused to step down, insisting he will hand over power only to an elected government.
Dbeibah was appointed last year in a U.N.-led process, mired in allegations of corruption and bribery, to lead the country through elections in December that never took place.
Bashagha attempted Tuesday to seat his government Tripoli, in a move that resulted in clashes with militias allied with Dbeibah just hours after Bashagha and his Cabinet ministers entered the Libyan capital. At least one man was killed and five others wounded in the clashes, authorities said.
Both prime ministers blamed each other for provoking the violence, which raised fears that the country could once again return to civil war after more than a year of tense calm.
“Libya will not be stopped by a city or region," Bashagha told reporters from Sirte late Tuesday, describing Tripoli as a “kidnaped city” held by his rival, Dbeibah. Bashagha said he would return to Tripoli once he makes sure that “there will no bloodshed.”
Sirte is also the gateway to the country’s major oil fields and export terminals. The crucial and strategic city is controlled by east-based forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter , an ally of Bashagha.
Bashagha’s move to Sirte is likely to deepen the political split in the already divided country and intensify the crisis.
The idea of seating the Libyan government in Sirte was floated in the 2020 talks that ended the latest major bout of fighting in Libya. More recently, influential Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh — also an ally of Bashagha — called for him to operate from Sirte rather than attempt to set up his government in Tripoli.