Libya Defense Chief Quits as Gunmen Extend Ministry Siege

Libya’s defense minister resigned as gunmen extended their siege of ministries in Tripoli for a second day, demanding the government’s resignation and tougher rules to bar Muammar Qaddafi-era officials from state jobs.

Mohammed Al-Barghathi, a fighter pilot during the Qaddafi era, quit because of events during the past two days, the official Libya News Agency reported, without giving further details. On May 5, Libya’s parliament passed the so-called Isolation Law, which bars from office senior officials who served under Qaddafi for at least 10 years. The law comes into effect on June 5.

Militiamen with machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons began blockading the Foreign and Interior ministries on April 28, demanding that parliament pass the law. The siege was raised on May 5, then resumed and extended to other ministries after gunmen rejected the measure.

Libya is mired in unrest two years after the ouster of Qaddafi, with militias across the country refusing to disarm and Islamists on the rise in the oil-producing east. The ability of the gunmen to lay siege to state institutions highlights the weakness of the central government and its security forces.

A draft version of the Isolation Law showed it would affect members of the civil service, the security services and judiciary, as well as the state-owned oil industry, along with about 30 lawmakers. A parliamentary committee is to spell out which professions and individuals are affected.

‘Not Satisfied’

Streets leading to the Foreign Ministry were closed yesterday and employees could not enter their offices.

“Protesters are not satisfied with the Isolation Law because it doesn’t ensure a 100 percent exclusion of ex-Qaddafi officials,” said a gunman, who identified himself only as Ali for fear of being arrested.

The militiamen outside the Justice and Foreign ministries are also calling for the removal of Prime Minister Ali Zaidan’s government. “It has failed to meet the aspirations of the Libyan people,” Ali said.

Demonstrations in central Tripoli on April 30 and May 2-3 for and against the purge law descended into clashes between supporters and opponents, though no casualties were reported.

A total of 169 of 200 lawmakers turned up for the televised vote on May 5, with 164 supporting the bill and five opposed.

Congress speaker Mohammed Magariaf and his first deputy Guma Ataiga will probably lose their jobs under the law. The head of the state-run oil company and the Central Bank governor may also be affected. Qaddafi ruled from 1969 to 2011.

Libyan ‘Shame’

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party, the second-largest in congress, have said they support the law. So did members of the largest party, the National Forces Alliance, even though their leader Mahmoud Jibril may be forced to resign because he was an economic adviser under Qaddafi.

“It is a shame for the new Libya that it makes a decision under the threat of weapons and as government institutions are besieged,” Abdel Hafiz Ghogha, who served in the previous transitional government and resigned after protesters stormed government offices in Benghazi in January 2012, told Libyan state television.

Ghogha said he is affected by the purge law, even though he was among the first to join the revolution that ousted Qaddafi in 2011. Barghathi was also an early revolutionary, having joined the uprising in February 2011.

To contact the reporter on this story: Saleh Sarrar in Tripoi at ssarar@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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