CAIRO – A self-declared prime minister said Thursday that his forces have seized at least three ministries in Libya’s capital and declared the return of his government after what he described as a yearlong failure of the current U.N.-backed premier.
Khalifa Ghwell told reporters by phone from Tripoli that his forces control the ministries of defense, labor and the “martyrs and the wounded.” His so-called National Salvation government was formed by the outgoing parliament after a disputed 2014 transfer of power that led to the establishment of rival governments, each backed by an array of militias.
The U.N. helped establish a third government in Tripoli last year under Fayez Serraj, a Western-backed technocrat, hoping he could unify Libya and lead the fight against Islamic extremists. The oil-rich North African country slid into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Ghwell said conditions have gone “from bad to worse” in the year since Serraj’s government was formed, as the country has grappled with a financial crisis. Libyans line up in front of banks for days in order to get cash, while the capital suffers from frequent power outages and shortages of basic goods.
The cash crisis stems from a dispute between Serraj and the head of the central bank, who has declined to release funds needed to run the U.N.-brokered government.
“We gave him a year, and when he failed, we decided to return [to power]” Ghwell said. When pressed for details, including on how he plans to fund his Cabinet, he replied: “Wait, and you will see what happens in the coming days.”
“We are the ones with legitimacy,” he later told a press conference.
The internationally recognized parliament, based in Libya’s far east, does not recognize the authority of Serraj or Ghwell. It is closely allied with Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, whose forces have been battling Islamic militants in recent years.
Hifter’s forces overran several oil terminals last year, and he has cultivated support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. On Wednesday, he visited a Russian aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea.