Firefight at Libyan government building shows continued insecurity

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Clashes erupted at a government building in central Tripoli on Tuesday after a dispute over the leadership of a state institution, its head said, underscoring the volatility and insecurity in Libya months before a planned election.

Pickup trucks carrying fighters rushed to the street where the Administrative Control Agency (ACA) is based, a Reuters witness said, amid the sound of gunfire and as black smoke rose overhead.

ACA head Sulaiman al-Shanti said the fighters were affiliated with his deputy. The two were appointed by different political entities and there have been recent disputes over the position of each.

Although open hostilities in the civil war stopped last summer, armed groups continue to operate across Libya, vying for territory and control of state institutions that remain divided despite a peace push.

Libya has had little security since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and was split after 2014 between warring eastern and western factions.

Moves towards a peace process last year were accelerated after forces of the eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar were pushed back from an assault on Tripoli, culminating in the appointment of a unity government in March.

However, although both sides publicly backed the new unity government and agreed a ceasefire, there has been little progress in unifying state institutions or preparing for a fair and free election amid accusations of obstruction.

An election is planned for Dec. 24 under the United Nations-backed process that put in place an interim unity government this year.

The Government of National Unity (GNU), installed in March, has complained of obstruction by the parliament, which was elected in 2014 and then split between the warring factions.

The ACA, which is mandated to oversee government performance, has powers to challenge appointments to public positions, making it an important lever in disputes over the control of other state institutions.

Photo: EPA/VASSIL DONEV