Libya PM: 'Swimming against the current' in chaos

AP News
Posted: Oct 20, 2013 1:51 PM

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's prime minister said Sunday he is "swimming against the current" in a country awash with militias and weapons as Libyans mark the second anniversary of the killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Ali Zidan spoke to journalists in Tripoli, more than a week after he was seized and briefly held captive by a mix of militiamen.

The incident highlighted how a nation that rebelled against Gadhafi, a ruthless ruler who crushed opponents like Zidan and chased them into exile, fell hostage to unruly militias. The armed groups were originally born out of the rebel forces that fought Gadhafi's brigades during the eight-month civil war in 2011. However, the absence of a central police force and a national army left successive transitional governments with no option but rely on rebel forces to impose law and order.

Over the past two years, rebels grew from tens of thousands to nearly 200,000 militiamen, acting with near impunity, and turning Libya's cities and districts to fiefdoms.

The government is "swimming against the current and this is very hard," Zidan said.

Simmering tensions in Libya were enflamed by an Oct. 5 raid by U.S. special forces that snatched a Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of Tripoli and whisked him off to custody in a U.S. warship. Islamists accused Zidan of facilitating the abduction of al-Libi, something he repeatedly denied. The incident was seen as the motive behind Zidan's abduction.

But even the government itself is at odds. In Sunday's comments, Zidan identified lawmakers Mohammed al-Kilani and Mustafa al-Teriki as being the ones who plotted his abduction. The two lawmakers, belonging to Libya's hard-line Islamist bloc in parliament, later denied Zidan's claim, with one telling journalists that the prime minister was a "liar" who wanted to come out of the crisis as a "hero."

Zidan also blamed "various parties" for hindering the establishment of an effective military and police force, naming only retired army officers as slowing down the process. He also said there are "people who want to hijack the state," in reference to the country's many militias.

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In a statement carried by Libya's official LANA news agency, the Cabinet said the country is facing "mounting security challenges in the spread of weapons." This summer, armed militias besieged ministries to press parliament to pass a divisive law known as the Political Isolation law, which bans senior Gadhafi-era officials from politics.

"We are not a state like a normal one ... we are in the middle of repercussions of a revolution," Zidan said, urging Libyans to be patient. "We accepted the challenge, not because we are brilliant politicians or have the magic wand ... but because we are ready to face the challenges."

However, he acknowledged his government's limits. "What can we do? ... The situation is beyond anyone's abilities."