Libya Defense Chief Agrees to Stay After Premier’s Plea

Libya’s defense minister withdrew his resignation hours after saying he was leaving office in protest at armed groups blockading ministries to force political change.

Mohammed Al-Barghathi, a Qaddafi-era air force officer, had announced he was quitting in a video posted on the Defense Ministry website earlier today. Prime Minister Ali Zaidan rejected the resignation and asked Al-Barghathi to stay “because of situation Libya finds itself in,” according to a statement on the premier’s website.

Heavily armed militiamen blockaded the foreign and interior ministries April 28, demanding parliament pass the so-called Isolation Law. The siege was lifted May 5 as Libya’s parliament backed the bill, which bars Muammar Qaddafi-era officials from office for at least 10 years. Gunmen extended their blockade to other ministries yesterday, saying the measure was inadequate.

Libya is mired in unrest two years after Qaddafi’s removal, 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 about 30 lawmakers, and anyone who served as a minister, ambassador, university dean or head of faculty, or as the head of a student union, local council, security agency or media organization. The state-owned oil industry may also be included.

Standards Authority

The General National Congress appointed the Political Positions Standards Implementation Authority to spell out which individuals are affected, and implement the legislation. The law comes into effect on June 5.

“The full implications for the transition will only emerge once the new authority has agreed the parameters for exclusion,” London-based Control Risks Group said in a note today. “If the law is implemented in its most extensive form it would prevent the security and operational environments from being stabilized over the next year, and possibly beyond.”

In any case, the passage of the law in itself will probably embolden militias, it said.

“Breaking into the ministries dressed in military uniform, and carrying guns, represents a flagrant attack on democracy and the elected authority, which I swore to protect,” Barghathi, a Qaddafi-era air force officer, said his resignation video.

Tripoli Demonstrations

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 the 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 participated in 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.

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