Gunmen surround Libya Foreign Ministry

AP News
Posted: Apr 28, 2013 4:47 PM

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's prime minister warned of a perilous security situation Sunday after armed men stormed the Interior Ministry and a state-owned television station after blocking access to the Foreign Ministry.

Two years after the country's civil war, Libya is struggling to maintain security, build a unified army and reign in militias, which include rebels who fought to oust longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

About 200 armed men surrounded the Foreign Ministry building in Tripoli, demanding the ministry hire former fighters who helped overthrow Gadhafi. The men allege that many supporters of the old regime are still holding senior positions in the ministry and its missions abroad.

About 38 trucks, some with machine guns, surrounded the ministry all day. After sundown, gunmen were still blocking access to the building.

Some in Libya are calling for a political isolation law that would ban members of the former regime from political roles. Others counter that such a law would oust experienced technocrats, including the current prime minister, who served in government under Gadhafi years ago.

In another bold move Sunday, gunmen stormed the Interior Ministry, which oversees police, and forced employees out. The men charge that the ministry is not paying them their salaries, according to an official in the ministry who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal.

Also, armed men stormed the main state-run al-Wataniya TV channel, forcing its employees out. Live shows were cancelled, and al-Wataniya was airing only archive video on Sunday. Similar to those outside the Foreign Ministry, the men were demanding the removal of Gadhafi-era officials from the station. The station was temporarily shut down recently when employees protested against militias providing security for the building instead of regular forces.

It was not immediately clear if the armed men coordinated their moves Sunday.

Prime Minister Ali Zidan told reporters in Tripoli that the security situation continues to be perilous. He stopped short of saying which militias or armed groups might be behind the incidents.

"If the situation persists, it will give Libya a bad reputation and lead to foreign companies pulling out and embassies closing down," he warned.

Zidan was himself besieged in his office last month by militiamen over remarks he made threatening to summon outside help to confront the armed groups.

Sunday's unrest prompted the country's parliament to put off discussing protests by military officers who are demanding the dismissal of the army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Youssef al-Mangoush. Some militias are believed to favor al-Mangoush remaining in his post, because he has been unable to replace militias with a strong unified force.