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Libya rebel leaders say they're in charge. Not so fast, say some in Tripoli.

Western rebels say they won't accept a government run by the National Transitional Council's chairman, who is from the east and has yet to be seen in Tripoli since rebels seized the capital.

By Gert Van LangendonckCorrespondent, and Kristen ChickCorrespondent / August 29, 2011

Libyans celebrate the liberation of their district of Qasr Bin Ghashir in Tripoli, LIbya, Saturday, Aug. 27. Libyan rebels claimed victory over a suburb near Tripoli's airport Saturday after an overnight battle as the opposition moves to solidify its hold on the capital while fighting Muammar Qaddafi loyalists in other parts of the country.

Sergey Ponomarev/AP


Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya

As rebel fighters held back the sparse traffic, a Russian-made jet landed on an improvised airstrip on the Nalut to Jadu road in Libya’s western mountains.

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It was Aug. 22, and fighting was still raging between rebels and supporters of strongman Muammar Qaddafi in Tripoli. But several members of the National Transitional Council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, had arrived at the makeshift airstrip to make the two-hour drive to Tripoli and establish the NTC as Libya's sovereign power.

Among them was Faraj Sayeh Eltayef, a Tripoli native and minister in the NTC’s executive council, who announced on Saturday that a democratic transition is already well under way.

“We’ve established task forces for every sector in Tripoli: water, electricity, security, preserving the infrastructure,” said Mr. Eltayef, who is in charge of preparing the country for a democratic transition. “In eight months' time we will hold elections for a national council, which will select a new government. At the same time, 15 individuals will be appointed to write a new constitution."

But while the rebels successfully came together to expel Mr. Qaddafi from Tripoli after 42 years of dictatorship, their ability to maintain that unity and lead a successful transition to democracy is already coming into question.

If an interim government fails to take firm control very soon, Libya could face a power vacuum in which disparate armed groups fight for control of the oil-rich country.

East-west tensions

One of the key problems is a division between the eastern rebels, based in Benghazi, and the western rebels who led the assault on Tripoli that broke Qaddafi's hold on the country.

Benghazi and Tripoli have long been regional rivals, and were played against each other by Qaddafi. Even if the NTC were to appoint a temporary government tomorrow, some in Tripoli say they won’t accept ministers chosen by the Benghazi leaders.

“We think the government should be formed by someone from Tripoli, or at least from the western part of the country," says Mohammed Omeish, the coordinator for the Coalition of February 17, an umbrella organization for opposition groups in the capital. "It would be a good way for the NTC to show that it is serious about national unity and that it is not Benghazi that’s running the show.”

A list of 40 NTC members, which has not been circulated previously for security reasons, shows at least five members from Tripoli, along with five from Benghazi. But some of those who represent Tripoli have lived abroad for decades, which may not be received well by Tripoli residents.


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