Libya Officials Seek Help as Rifts Deepen Amid Militia Violence

Aug 25, 2014 6:00 pm ET

(For more stories on unrest in the Middle East, click on EXTRA <GO>.)

Aug. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Libya’s outgoing parliament defied its successor by naming an alternative premier, while government officials called for international help amid growing violence between rival militias.

The General National Congress, the legislature that has refused to disband even after a new one was elected in June, invited Omar El-Hassi to form a salvation government during a meeting yesterday in the capital, Tripoli. The congress, where Islamists are among the strongest factions, also announced a “public mobilization” in all institutions and the highest level of security alert, the official news agency Lana said.

The newly elected parliament has been meeting in the east of the country instead of Tripoli, the seat of the outgoing legislature. El-Hassi was nominated as a rival to Prime Minister Abdullah Theni, whose house was set ablaze by militia fighters yesterday, according to Al-Arabiya television.

The political schisms and spread of violence highlight the lack of central authority in Libya three years after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi by rebels who received military support from the U.S. and its European allies. The chaos has undercut efforts to revive oil output in the OPEC member, which holds Africa’s largest proven crude reserves.

An alliance of Islamist militias, called Libya Dawn, said Aug. 23 it wrested control of Tripoli’s international airport from a rival force.

‘Real Engagement’

In Cairo yesterday, Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdel-Aziz told a meeting of Libya’s neighbors that the country needs “real engagement from the international community” within the framework of United Nations Security Council resolutions. He said that didn’t mean military intervention.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the activities of “extremist and terrorist groups” in Libya may be spreading to other countries, as militants infiltrate across borders.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, whose governments are staunch opponents of Islamist groups in their own countries, have denied allegations by Libya Dawn that they carried out airstrikes against Islamist militias in Libya. The New York Times yesterday cited U.S. officials confirming the airstrikes.

Abdel-Aziz said Libyan officials have asked the Security Council to send “a strong political message” to the armed groups to end the conflict. Libya’s ambassador to Egypt, Mohamed Jibril, told reporters that the country is “suffering from the inability of the state to protect its airports, ports and oil fields.”

Participants at the meeting issued a closing declaration that called for an immediate end to all military operations, and said armed groups should surrender their weapons as part of a gradual and mutual process.

--With assistance from Saleh Sarrar in Tripoli and Tarek El- Tablawy in Cairo.