Skip to main content

Head of Tripoli authorities refuses to cede power to Sarraj

Leader in Libyan capital backtracks on earlier statement indicating readiness of de facto authorities to yield power to transition government
Khalifa Al-Ghweil (left) and Nouri Abusahmain, the president of Libya's General National Congress, attend an independence day rally in December (AFP)

The head of Libya's de facto authorities in Tripoli said on Wednesday he was refusing to hand over power to a UN-backed unity government, apparently contradicting an earlier pledge by his administration.

Khalifa Ghweil, the leader of Tripoli's so-called National Salvation Government, issued a statement calling on ministers not to stand down and threatening to prosecute anyone who cooperated with Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj's internationally recognised government.

"Given the requirements of public interest... you are requested to continue your mission in accordance with the law," Ghweil said.

The announcement is a setback for Sarraj who arrived last week at a naval base in the capital and has gained support from key power holders including the Central Bank and the National Oil Corporation.

A statement released late on Tuesday bearing the logo of the militia-backed Tripoli authority had said its prime minister, deputy premiers and cabinet ministers were all stepping aside in support of the unity government.

That statement, published on the website of the Tripoli authorities' justice ministry, said the decision was taken to "preserve the higher interests of the country and prevent bloodshed and divisions".

Earlier on Tuesday, nearly 70 members of the General National Congress, the parliamentary assembly reinstated by the coalition of armed groups that took control of Tripoli in 2014 and formed the National Salvation Government, voted to formally recognise the UN-backed government.

Ghweil's administration had made several attempts to block Sarraj's arrival, including closing airspace around the capital, and called for him to leave Tripoli or "surrender" to the authorities.

Libya has had rival parliaments and governments since 2014, when the internationally recognised legislature was forced out of Tripoli by an alliance of militia-backed groups.

Sarraj, a businessman from Tripoli, has not yet received the endorsement of a rival government backed by the parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk.

UN envoy Martin Kobler on Tuesday welcomed the Tripoli authority's willingness to hand over power, though he had warned that "deeds must follow words".

Kobler held talks with Sarraj on Tuesday after arriving for his first visit to Tripoli since the new government arrived in the capital.

Earlier on Wednesday, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni had said recent developments were "encouraging" in moving towards a "united, stable and secure Libya".

"I hope that the spirit of compromise prevails on all parties involved," he said in a statement.

Kobler praised the "courage and determination" of the unity government and said the UN was ready to provide "all the support needed" towards an "immediate and peaceful handover of power".

World powers are pressing all sides in the Libyan conflict to accept the UN-brokered deal amid concerns the Islamic State (IS) militant group is gaining influence in the country.

Western nations are openly considering military intervention against the militants, but diplomats and officials have previously said that they would wait for a request from the unity government.

However, as Middle East Eye first reported, Britain has already launched covert military operations in the country with the support of Jordan. The US has also been conducting drone strikes on IS targets in the country.