Libya's PM to step down after gunmen allegedly target his family

Libya's parliament ousted the previous prime minister in March. Abdullah al-Thani said he would stay on as interim prime minister until a replacement is found. 

Ismail Zitouny/Reuters
Libya's acting prime minister Abdullah al-Thani speaks during a news conference in Tripoli on March 12, 2014. Al-Thani handed his resignation to parliament today after less than two weeks in the post.

Libya's government said Sunday that the interim prime minister had declined a parliamentary mandate to form a new government and will instead step down, in a move likely to compound the difficulties facing a government already divided and facing widespread unrest and militia violence.

Interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani announced on the interim government's website that he was leaving his post, but would stay on as head of the Cabinet until a replacement could be found. He is the second Libyan prime minister to leave his post in as many months, underlining the North African nation's instability three years after the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

He said that he had made his decision "to protect the interests of the country and so as not to drag different sides into fighting when there can be no winner." He said his decision also was related to an armed attack against him and his family Saturday night in a residential neighborhood that, according to him, put the lives of its residents at risk.

He did not want to be the cause of any fighting or bloodshed because of his position, he explained.

Officials at Libya's nascent security forces could not be immediately reached to comment on al-Thani's claim.

Post-Gadhafi turmoil

Al-Thani served as defense minister under the previous prime minister, Ali Zidan, and was detained several times under Gadhafi's rule because of his brother's criticism of Libya's intervention in the internal affairs of neighboring Chad.

The Libyan government has been in turmoil in the three years since Gadhafi's overthrow.

The Western-backed Zidan was pushed out of office in a no-confidence vote by parliament on March 11. The vote followed a standoff between the central government in Tripoli and powerful militias in eastern Libya over oil sales, as well as a power struggle within parliament between Islamists trying to remove him and anti-Islamist political factions.

Zidan was Libya's first democratically chosen leader who had struggled for 15 months to halt the country's descent into chaos in the face of formidable obstacles.

Militias keep order

In the absence of a strong military and police force, the Libyan state relies on militias to keep order — but many defy the government, with one of them briefly abducting Zidan himself last year.

Al-Thani did not say who attacked him and his family on Saturday night, but his account of what happened, if independently verified, bears the hallmarks of militiamen.

In a separate incident that showed the power wielded by militias, the chairman of Libya's parliament was recently caught on film pleading with a militia commander, trying to explain to him why he was caught with two women at his residence and insisting nothing scandalous was going on.

Nouri Abu Sahmein claimed the women said they had "sensitive information" at a time he has received tips about a cell plotting to assassinate him.

The video highlighted how weak even Libya's most prominent politicians are in the face of the militias that have become both the enforcers of the law and the fuel of lawlessness in the country since the 2011 ouster and death of Gadhafi.

From the start, the fledgling government did little to follow through on a program to disarm and demobilize the militias. Instead, officials tried to buy them off, spending billions of dollars to enlist the fighters in various security tasks, without ever winning their loyalty — or building a state for them to be loyal to.

Now, with the army and police still in disarray, politicians are far too weak to control the militias.

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