Photographer: Abdullah Doma/AFP via Getty Images

Fear of Military Rule Grows in Benghazi as Elected Mayor Ousted

  • Municipal council of Libya’s second-biggest city was suspended
  • Activists say move is setback for UN-backed unity governemnt

The army in eastern Libyan replaced the mayor of the North African country’s second-biggest city with a senior intelligence chief, a move criticized by activists as illegal and a prelude to military rule in the region.

Colonel Ahmed Laraibi was named mayor of Benghazi on Thursday, the Albayda-based news agency LANA reported. The appointment was made without consulting local legislators, while Benghazi’s municipal council was also suspended, LANA said.

Laraibi’s appointment has cemented fears among local pro-democracy activists that Khalifa Haftar, a controversial figure who leads local armed forces and holds sway over Libya’s eastern region, has no intention of supporting the country’s United Nations-backed unity government based in the west -- and that military rule in the region is inevitable.

"If the military wants to run things this way, it must abolish all laws and declare martial law,” said Awad al-Gwayri, a member of the suspended council, which elected its own mayor in June. “Our election was legitimate,” he said.

Demonstrations and protests without prior approval have been banned by the city’s new leadership.

While Haftar’s campaign to clear Benghazi of jihadi fighters was welcomed by many of the city’s residents, some are now warning that the campaign is going too far and undermining attempts to protect democratic values.

"The major battle was against Islamic State and extremism, but it will now be shifted to a battle against civil society and the dream of a civil state," local activist Mohamed Musrati said by phone.

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