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Tension in Libya as rival forces mass around Tripoli

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Libya's parliamentary-appointed prime minister announced on Friday the withdrawal of armed groups that had taken up positions at the gates of Tripoli to support him against the incumbent executive, after appeals for calm from the UN and Washington.

Already plagued by divisions between competing institutions in the east and west, Libya has been left with two rival governments since early March, as it was between 2014 and 2021, when it was in the midst of a civil war after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

A government formed by former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, approved by the parliament sitting in the east, is in fact competing with the cabinet in place in the capital Tripoli, resulting from UN-sponsored political agreements and headed by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who refuses to cede power.

Armed groups loyal to Fathi Bashagha mobilized Thursday at the entrances to Tripoli, raising fears of clashes with forces under Dbeibah as the country tries to emerge from more than a decade of political chaos and conflict.

Anxious to prevent a resumption of hostilities and the collapse of a ceasefire in place since October 2020, the UN secretary-general's envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, and US ambassador Richard Norland called Thursday night for restraint.

The armed groups "preferred not to resort to arms" and "withdrew to their previous positions," Bashagha's press office announced in a statement released Thursday night.

According to the text, this decision was taken to "avoid any bloodshed" and in response "to the requests of our international and regional partners.

Norland said Thursday evening that he had held telephone talks with Bashagha and Dbeibah.

"I spoke tonight with Parliament's Prime Minister-designate, Fathi Bashagha, and commended him for his willingness to defuse tensions and seek to resolve current political disagreements through negotiation and not force," he tweeted.

He also said he "appreciated" Mr. Dbeibah's "commitment to protecting lives" and his "willingness to enter into negotiations to find a political solution."

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