Libya crisis deepens as supreme court rejects parliament

The ruling prompted celebratory gunfire in the capital Tripoli where Islamist-led militias have been in control since August.

Libyans celebrate at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli after the supreme court invalidated the country's parliament. Ismail Zitouny/Reuters
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TRIPOLI // Libya’s supreme court on Thursday invalidated the internationally recognised parliament, setting the stage for deepening political chaos in the violence-wracked nation.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, prompted celebratory gunfire in the capital Tripoli where Islamist-led militias have been in control since August.

The Tripoli court also nullified a constitutional amendment that led to elections on June 25, thereby invalidating the polls and all decisions that resulted from them.

The internationally supported government of Prime Minister Abdullah Al Thinni is sheltering in the remote eastern town of Tobruk near the Egyptian border and has almost no control over Libya’s three main cities.

The legislature’s legal committee called an emergency meeting to review the court ruling.

“Lawmakers will not recognise a verdict decided under the gun,” a Tobruk-based parliamentarian, Issam Al Jehani, wrote on Facebook.

Libyan authorities have struggled to assert control across a country awash with weapons and powerful militias that ousted longtime autocratic leader Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 revolt.

There was no immediate response to the ruling from the adminstration led by Mr Al Thinni, who was appointed prime minister in March by an interim parliament that has since been dissolved.

He submitted his resignation in August, but the elected parliament asked him to form a new government.

The supreme court had been asked by an Islamist parliamentarian to rule on the constitutionality of the legislature that approved Mr Al Thinni’s government, one of two rival administrations in the oil-flush country.

Abderrauf Al Manai, who with other Islamist MPs has boycotted the parliament’s sessions in Tobruk, argued that the legislature was in breach of the constitution because it was sitting in neither Tripoli nor Benghazi, Libya’s second city.

He also argued that the parliament had exceeded its authority in calling for foreign military intervention after the militia takeover of the capital.

“I hope all parties will respect the decision of the court,” Mr Al Manai told television broadcaster Al Nabaa.

Former rebels who fought Qaddafi have formed powerful militias and seized control of large parts of Libya over the past three years.

Most MPs who are boycotting the internationally recognised parliament support Fajr Libya, an Islamist-led militia alliance that has formed a parallel government known for its Islamist sympathies.

Libya’s elected parliament is dominated by anti-Islamists.

The supreme court ruling follows intense clashes between pro-government militias and Islamist fighters in Benghazi that have killed more than 30 people in the past three days, according to medics.

Witnesses described the fighting, which included heavy shelling, as among the fiercest since former general Khalifa Haftar launched a new government-backed offensive on the eastern city in October.

Islamist militias, including fighters from the radical Ansar Al Sharia group, took near total control of Benghazi in July.

Ansar Al Sharia is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist group for its alleged role in a deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

France, Britain and the United States on Tuesday asked a Security Council committee to add the group to a UN terror list for its ties to Al Qaeda.

* Agence France-Presse