War in Libya: Cracks in the government alliance

War in Libya: Cracks in the government alliance

The head of government in Tripoli dismisses his interior minister. He maintains the most powerful force in the government: the militias from Misrata.

A long convoy of 300 brand new Toyota jeeps pushed their way through the after-work traffic jam on the Corniche of Tripoli on Saturday evening. Uniformed men looked serious from the loading area at the annoyed passers-by, who acknowledged the huge traffic jam with a shake of their heads.

A week earlier, shots had been fired not far from the harbor promenade. Young capitals had demonstrated against the rampant corruption of the authorities and the hours of power cuts – and the militias that control Tripoli responded with violence.

After the end of the year-long siege of Tripoli by General Khalifa Haftar’s East Libyan army, the ratio of the defenders of Tripoli to the population has also deteriorated dramatically. The Libyan capital did not fall into the hands of Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), primarily because of the massive involvement of armed groups from the port city of Misrata, 200 kilometers away. But even during the war, many Tripolitans were critical of all warring parties.

Osama Tawil, 27, is one of those people who took to the streets with his friends. “We want those who control Tripoli to finally ensure security, a good infrastructure and order. For a long time now I have not cared who does that,” said the architect on the phone. On the first day of the protest, the citizens marching through the city with white flags were shot at by the Nawasi militia, which is subordinate to the Interior Ministry, and some of those arrested are still in prison cells as alleged Gaddafi supporters.

On Saturday the prime minister of the unity government, Fajis al-Sarradsch, deposed the interior minister. Al-Sarradsch said that Fathi Bashaga, who comes from Misrata and is also Minister of Defense, should face a hearing about the shelling of the peaceful demonstrators. Bashaga agreed on the condition that the interview be televised live.

Many observers believe that the push against Bashaga is a competitive battle. The integration of the capital city militias into the official security structures was ironically the central project of the 54-year-old Bashaga to strengthen the government in western Libya and made him an enemy of the capital city militias even before that.

In Cairo and Ankara, the capitals of the most important regional supporters of the two Libyan conflict parties, people are looking with concern at the cracks in the western Libyan government alliance. The Misrata units hold the front against Haftar’s LNA near the town of Sirte – if they go their own way, the current calm is in danger.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister Samih Schukri called on Saturday during a visit by the UN Libya Mission (Unmil) to return to peace talks. Unmil boss Stephanie Williams from the US has been warning for weeks that the current ceasefire between eastern and western Libyan groups could collapse at any time without a detailed treaty and an international monitoring mission.

Fathi Bashaga and the head of the Presidential Council, Chaled al-Meschri, traveled to Turkey. While Bashaga demonstrated his power with his militia convoy in Tripoli on Saturday even without an office, Sarradsch disappeared from the scene.

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