UN expresses concern over 'dramatic turn' in Libya crisis

Protests over deteriorating economic conditions erupted this week in capital

Demonstrators march during an anti-government protest in Tripoli, Libya, August 25, 2020, REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed. NO RESALE NO ARCHIVE

The UN on Saturday voiced alarm over “a dramatic turn of events” in Libya after the leader of Tripoli government suspended his interior minister in a rift over attacks on anti-corruption protesters.

The events underline “the urgent need to return to a full and inclusive political process”, the UN Support Mission in Libya said.

The Government of National Accord in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj, announced late on Friday that Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha had been suspended and referred to an administrative investigation.

Mr Bashagha accused a government-allied militia of attacking protesters at peaceful rallies in the capital since last Sunday.

The announcement was met with celebrations by militia members in Tripoli and protests in Mr Bashagha’s home city of Misurata.

The Interior Ministry said a GNA-allied militia fired live ammunition at protesters.

An Amnesty International report noted that the shooting on August 23 happened in an area under the control of the Nawasi militia, which is nominally under the control of the interior ministry but acts independently.

“It’s the return of the spat between the Nawasis and Bashagha from a few months ago,” Tarek Megerisi, a Libya expert and policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Bloomberg.

Retweeting the statement by the UN Support Mission, the US embassy in Libya urged Mr Al Sarraj and Mr Bashagha towards co-operation in the interests of the Libyan people.

The rift within the GNA is a setback for UN-led international efforts to end the civil war in Libya, which pits forces allied to the Tripoli government against those with the House of Representatives administration in eastern Libya.

As economic and living conditions deteriorate, protests have broken out in the capital and elsewhere in western Libya, and spread to the southern town of Sabah and eastern town of Quba.

Over the past two days, militias in Tripoli sealed off main streets and roads to stop the demonstrators reaching Martyrs' Square, the centre of the protests, residents told AP.

A group of women protested in the city centre before being dispersed.

Two were wounded and four arrested, according to the protest movement known as “Hirak Aug 23”.