The NATO-backed uprising in 2011 has been ravaged by oil-rich Libya since the fall and assassination of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and has for many years been divided between rival administrations in the East and West, each supported by various militias and foreign governments.
Former Interior Minister Bashaagha was nominated prime minister by the country’s former parliament in February. But his rival, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, based in the country’s west of Tripoli, has refused to resign, insisting he will only hand over power to an elected government.
Dibebah was appointed last year in a UN-led process plagued by allegations of corruption and bribery, never to lead the country through elections in December.
Bashagha tried to oust his government from Tripoli on Tuesday, sparking clashes with militias in Dobbah just hours after Bashagha and his cabinet ministers entered the Libyan capital. At least one person was killed and five others were injured in the clashes, authorities said.
Both prime ministers have blamed each other for inciting the violence, which has raised fears that the country could return to civil war after more than a year of tense calm.
“Libya will not be stopped by a city or a region,” Bashagha told reporters from Sirte late on Tuesday, describing Tripoli as a “kidnapped city” occupied by his rival, Dwivedi. Basagha said he would return to Tripoli after making sure there was “no bloodshed”.
Sirte is also the gateway to the country’s main oil fields and export terminals. The important and strategic city is controlled by the allied forces of Khalifa Hiftar, the allied military commander of Bashaghar.
The move to Bashar al-Assad could deepen the political divisions in the already divided country and intensify the crisis.
The idea of placing the Libyan government in Sirte was floated in the 2020 talks, ending Libya’s last major war. Most recently, influential parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh – who was also an ally of Basagha – called on him to stay in Sirte without trying to form a government in Tripoli.