Libya’s rival prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, has said he has no immediate plans to rule from Tripoli after his attempted move there last week sparked clashes and fears of a return to widespread civil strife.
Bashagha said his government would work from its headquarters in Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast about halfway between the country’s east and west.
Rival administrations from each end of Libya claim to be its legitimate rulers until elections are held.
Describing last week's events, Bashagha said he had entered Tripoli in a civilian car and that those escorting him were unarmed. A young man was killed during the incident.
Bashagha identified him as Ahmed Alashabab, calling him a supporter who was defending him from militiamen.
"We do blame ourselves for having entered the city," he said. "I had said that I would not enter the capital unless conditions were 100% favourable.”
Oil-rich Libya has been wracked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
It has been split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
The establishment of Bashagha’s government in Sirte is likely to further cement the political divide.
Bashagha, a former interior minister and air force pilot, was named prime minister by the country’s east-based parliament in February.
But his rival, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, based in Tripoli in the country’s west, has refused to step down, insisting he will hand over power only to an elected government.
Bashagha said he doubts his rival can unite the country and organize orderly voting, claiming Dbeibah does not command enough loyalty outside of the capital.
“He will only be able to hold them in Tripoli,” he said, adding that his own government is looking at holding nationwide elections within 14 months.
The impasse worsened over the past two months, resulting in the closure of oil facilities - including Libya’s largest oil field - in areas controlled by Hifter’s forces.
Bashagha said he was not behind the stoppage of oil production, but that local tribes had decided to take matters into their own hands, not wanting to fund Dbeibah’s government.
Bashagha also called on the country’s Central Bank, torn by years of civil war, to pay out his government’s budget that was passed by the east-based lawmakers.
The bank is the repository for billions of dollars annually in oil revenue as well as foreign reserves. In 2014, it splintered along the country’s broader political fault lines.
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