Libya | Parliament Dismisses Prime Minister Over Theft of Oil; Battling Between Rival Militias Creates Instability
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- Parliament Dismisses Prime Minister Over Theft of Oil; Battling Between Rival Militias Creates Instability
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Parliament Dismisses Prime Minister Over Theft of Oil; Battling Between Rival Militias Creates Instability
In July 2013, the Cyrenaica Political Bureau, a militia led by Ibrahim Jathran, began a blockade of Libya's major oil ports and demanded expanded autonomy for Cyrenaica, a province in eastern Libya, and a greater share in oil revenues. The government did little to end the blockade, despite the loss of oil revenue—the lifeblood of Libya's economy. In March 2014, the group loaded a tanker with 234,000 barrels of crude oil (valued at about $30 million) to sell on the black market. Prime Minister Zeidan said the move was an act of piracy and threatened to blow up the ship. The militants, however, defied the threats and the tanker left the port. Parliament voted to dismiss Zeidan, citing his weakness and inability to control the militia. Abdullah al-Thinni was named interim prime minister. U.S. Navy SEALS raided the ship days later and captured three Libyans said by crew members to be hijackers. The ship was set to return to Libya. The raid was a major setback to Jathran's militia.
In May, former general Khalifa Heftar organized a group of anti-Islamist nationalists, calling it the Libyan National Army, and led a campaign against a coalition of Islamic militias, Libya Dawn, in eastern Libya that he said had thrown Libya into disarray. Fighting continued for several weeks, and Heftar gained the support of the country's military. Heftar served under Qaddafi but split from him in the 1980s. He also accused Prime Minister Maiteg of being under the sway of the Islamic militias.
Libya's transitional Parliament elected Ahmed Maitiq, a prominent businessman from Misurata, as prime minister in May 2014. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the election was unconstitutional, and he resigned. Thinni remained in office as interim prime minister.
Parliamentary elections were held in late June 2014, and because the populace had largely lost confidence in government as militias continued to yield tremendous power, turnout and interest in the race were low. In light of the violence between rival militias in Tripoli, the new Parliament convened in the eastern city of Tobruk, which is controlled by Heftar. However, many of the Islamist MPs refused to attend. Members of the former Parliament, which is the preferred body of the Islamists, reconvened in Tripoli and on Aug. 25 appointed Omar al-Hassi as prime minister, further complicating the political landscape. Heftar's government is recognized by the majority of the international community.
Violence between Libya Dawn and Heftar's fighters intensified in Tripoli during the summer of 2014. In July, they battled for control of the city's international airport, and the barrage of shelling threatened the U.S. embassy, forcing the U.S. to evacuate embassy staff. Most other nations also withdrew their embassy personnel. After a month of fighting, Libya Dawn won control of the airport, and Heftar's troops fled Tripoli. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates launched airstrikes on the Islamic militias in Tripoli several times in late August. Neither nation informed the U.S. about the attacks, and U.S. officials were reportedly irate that they were kept in the dark. The ongoing violence illustrated that any hope of stability in Libya was quickly fading, and the threat of civil war loomed. In early September, the government acknowledged that Libay Dawn controlled government ministries in Tripoli. By October, some 100,000 people fled the Tripoli area. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Libya in October to try to broker peace between the groups. His efforts bore little fruit. The fighting escalated at end of 2014, with the government launching airstrikes on Misrata, which is under the control of Libya Dawn.
The instability was blamed for an influx of refugees into Italy from Libya. More than 5,300 Libyans arrived in Italy during the first six weeks of 2015, a 60% increase over 2014.
The rival militias agreed to a UN-brokered cease-fire in January 2015. The vaguely worded truce left ample room for interpretation and doubts that it would hold.