A senior Libyan lawmaker resigned after gunmen blockaded the National Congress and chased parliamentarians trying to debate legislation that would purge former regime officials from office.
Mohammed Toumi said he was stepping down as Chairman of the congressional 19 Committee, which proposed the law, in an interview in Tripoli today. The 12-hour siege by armed protesters ended early yesterday.
As written, the so-called Isolation Law would apply to the government, the civil service, the security services and judiciary, as well as the state-owned oil industry, and force about 30 parliamentarians to resign. Prime Minister Ali Zaidan and Mohammed Magariaf, the parliamentary Speaker whose car was riddled with bullets by unknown gunmen on March 5, would be forced to quit because of their work as diplomats under the late Muammar Qaddafi. Lawmakers are due to vote on the proposed law on March 10. Voting has already been postponed twice.
The draft law is a focal point for anger in Libya, mired in unrest two years after the ouster of Qaddafi. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party, the second largest party in congress, and many independent lawmakers, support the law. It is opposed by the center-right National Forces Alliance, congress’s largest party, whose leader, Mahmoud Jibril, a former rebel Prime Minister, would also be barred because of his work as an economics adviser to Qaddafi.
Congress was meeting at the meteorological center, south of the capital, when the gunmen began their blockade. Protesters are already occupying the National Congress building and also their second-choice legislature, the Rixos hotel.
As the debate began, militia and protesters blockaded routes out, with teams of gunmen entering the complex and giving chase to congress members. Lawmaker Juma Asayah was injured jumping over a wall as the session was suspended.
The Ministry of Interior and Justice condemned the attacks in a news conference yesterday.
Toumi said he favors a law with fewer exclusions. Both the 19 Committee, named for the number of its congress members, and the congress itself had yet to agree on amendments, he said.
The blockade and attempted murder of Magariaf has led some lawmakers, including Toumi, to consider suspending congress altogether.
“We do not have the required protection,” he said. “We can’t work in such an environment.” He blamed the government for failing to provide security forces to protect lawmakers of the 200-strong congress.
Photos released of Magariaf’s armored Toyota SUV show it was struck by at least a dozen shots. It also showed shredded tires and multiple bullet strikes, including five impacts against the bullet-proof glass of the rear window where he sat.
“If you worked with the regime, you have the ideas of the regime,” said Dr Mohammed Sammu, an independent lawmaker from Tripoli in an interview. “We ask you now, you can be with us, but don’t lead us.”
Congress member Zeinab El-Tarqi said the Isolation Law was wrong to target all officials, regardless of whether they committed illegal acts. “This is wrong,” she said. “We should isolate behavior, not persons.”
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