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Provisional Govt. in Libyan capital forces out its own PM

The provisional government set up by the militias controlling the Libyan capital fired its prime minister on Tuesday. His departure removed a potential obstacle to unity talks organized by the United Nations to try to end the fighting that has divided the country.

The prime minister, Omar al-Hassi, “is a failure,” a spokesman for his government, Jamal Naji Zubia, said Tuesday. A group of 14 of Mr. Hassi’s ministers had demanded his exit and threatened to quit if he remained in place, Mr. Zubia said, adding, “He is not a decision maker.”

Government officials accused Mr. Hassi of overstating the government’s revenue and failing to meet its payroll, according to news reports. His deputy, Khalifa Ghweil, will take over as interim prime minister.

Western diplomats working to help resolve the Libyan conflict had also singled out Mr. Hassi as a spoiler who was seeking to block compromise in the interest of peace. Diplomats involved in supporting the United Nations-brokered peace talks have said that Mr. Hassi’s name was on a list of potential targets for international sanctions intended to isolate such spoilers in an effort to bring the factions together.

His ouster also hinted at some of the divisions festering even within the two main coalitions now fighting each other. Mr. Hassi, a former professor, was named to lead one of two rival governments set up since last summer, when the regional or ideological militias that sprang up after the ouster ofCol. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 broke into two warring factions.

The faction that had appointed Mr. Hassi includes some moderate and extremist Islamist groups, as well as interests from the powerful commercial center of Misurata, and it brought back legislators from a rump of a disbanded parliament to form a provisional government. The other faction, based in the eastern cities of Tobruk and Bayda, includes the internationally recognized Parliament. But the faction is also dominated by a former Qaddafi general, Khalifa Hifter, who announced last year that he was leading a military takeover to purge Libya of Islamists.

In recent months, Mr. Hassi had repeatedly bolstered the arguments of the anti-Islamist forces and undermined his own credibility by publicly minimizing or denying the threat posed by hard-line Islamist militants. He once described the Benghazi-based Libyan group Ansar al-Shariah, a terrorist group in the eyes of the United States, as “a beautiful idea.”

In an interview in March, Mr. Hassi also dismissed recent footage released by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, showing the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians kidnapped in the Libyan city of Surt. He said it was “a fabricated Hollywood-like video” concocted by his opponents “to create divisions between us and the Egyptian people,” and he claimed that many of the militants themselves were “actually remnants of the previous regime.”

Mr. Hassi made it clear that he opposed the United Nations’ plans for talks between the two sides to form a unity government, arguing that only his faction had any legitimacy. The United Nations’ proposal presumed that his government would disband and get out of the way. But Mr. Hassi argued that his own cabinet, which his faction calls a “salvation government,” should preside over any talks and then remain in place, suggesting that he had no plans to leave.

Under his plan, he said, “the salvation government would start a series of dialogue sessions” under its own auspices, and after his faction’s defeat of General Hifter, “some of the armed units in the east of the country will not see a military leader, and the country will be united.”

Mr. Hassi had already lost the support of a growing number of civilian and military leaders in his faction in Tripoli and Misurata. Several of the militia leaders who had helped capture Tripoli and install his government, known as the Committee of 17, were openly critical of him. “We are not happy with his performance,” said Abdul Atheem al-Shigmani, a militia leader on the committee.

In Misurata, Fathi Bashaagha, an influential businessman and political leader, contended that it was a positive sign for the potential formation of a unity government that “everyone has realized” that Mr. Hassi’s government was bad and no better than its rival.

Source: The New York Times

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