Libyan Prime Minister Survives Assassination Attempt Amid Protests

Libya's internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni speaks during an interview with Reuters in Bayda February 15, 2015. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

The prime minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government survived an assassination attempt Tuesday after facing hostile questioning inside Parliament and demands for his resignation from armed protesters outside.

The mayhem and violence broke out amid growing signs of divisions in the faction backing the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni against a rival faction that has taken over the capital, Tripoli. If the conflicts and discord further threaten the stability of Mr. Thinni’s government, the result could cripple the United Nations-brokered talks aimed at bringing the two factions together and could further compound the chaos that has engulfed Libya since the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011.

It was unclear who was responsible for the assassination attempt. Armed forces allied with the government, which is based in Tobruk and Bayda, have been battling Islamist militants from Benghazi and Dernah. Last winter, militants hostile to the government set off a car bomb at the hotel used as a meeting place for Parliament.

But Mr. Thinni, a former army general but now a civilian politician, has also been under growing internal pressure for several months from supporters of Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the military leader who effectively dominates the Tobruk-Bayda government. The two men appear, in some sense, to be rivals for power in their faction. But General Hifter controls the government’s only military or security force, and many Libyans who support the faction regard him as its true leader.

Western diplomats who know General Hifter and Mr. Thinni have said that they do not talk, and as long ago as January, members of Parliament close to General Hifter spoke openly of a desire to ensure that he did not report to Mr. Thinni, or even to force Mr. Thinni from office.

More recently, a satellite television network that has supported General Hifter has aired accusations against Mr. Thinni that involve loose spending or financial mismanagement. And on Tuesday, he appeared before Parliament in Tobruk to face sharp questioning about the effectiveness of his government.

Armed demonstrators demanding his resignation gathered outside at the same time. At one point, a car was set on fire, according to news reports, forcing Parliament to shut down.

Then, as Mr. Thinni left to return to his office in Bayda, assailants fired shots at his car and wounded one of his bodyguards, according to an aide who was with him and news reports. “Thank God, we managed to escape,” Mr. Thinni told the satellite news network Al Arabiya.

Col. Ahmad Muhee, a security adviser who was with Mr. Thinni, said he had tried to call General Hifter for protection against the protesters.

“We tried to call Khalifa Hifter, but he never answered us, and none of the people around him answered us,” Colonel Muhee said.

Source: NY Times


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