Magharebia (Washington DC)

Libya: Security Crisis Intensifies

Photo: Hamza Turkia/Xinhua
Gunmen block a street near Libya's Ministry of Justice with military trucks in Tripoli (file photo).

Tripoli — Libyan security services defused several car bombs and other explosives in the past two days, Prime Minister Ali Zidan said on Sunday (May 19th).

The prime minister's press conference came in the wake of a string of bombings in both Benghazi and Tripoli. The attacks accelerated after the May 5th passage of the controversial political isolation law, which bars Kadhafi regime members from serving in government.

Several new blasts hit Benghazi at the week-end, including one on Saturday that targeted the already-desecrated Orthodox Church. The new attack damaged the church entrance and nearby cars but left no casualties.

Another bomb exploded at 2 am Saturday near a patrol on Dubai Street, slightly wounding a soldier. Another homemade bomb went off in a garden next the diabetes hospital in Sidi Hussain, but there were no casualties. A separate blast targeted a patrol but no injuries were reported, a security source in Benghazi said.

Tripoli also saw violence, with two small bombings occurring on Saturday. The first device was planted under a car parked in the street where the embassies of Greece, Saudi Arabia and Algeria are situated. The second bomb was set off in a car park on al-Nasr Street.

Essam al-Naas, media spokesperson for the joint force in Tripoli, said that two men were arrested, including one who allegedly hurled the bomb near the embassies. The other suspect allegedly threw the bomb at al-Nasr Street near the security forces' information centre.

The latest attacks come just a month after a large bomb blast struck the French embassy, wounding several.

The continuing instability led the UK to announce May 10th that it was reducing diplomatic staff in Tripoli. The United States soon followed suit, ordering the departure of non-emergency personnel from Libya. Meanwhile, Italy said last week that the US was moving 200 Marines to Sicily so they could deploy in Libya in case diplomats came under attack, AFP reported.

The issue of public safety in Libya led Benghazi tribal elders to meet Saturday evening with officials from the defence and interior ministries, including Defence Minister Mohamed Mahmoud al-Barghati.

"We have given confidence to the General National Congress (GNC), which is the legitimate entity here and which has chosen the government," Sheikh Solayman said.

"What have you done so far about building the army, although you have money and budget?" he asked. He added, "If we continue like this, we will lose our country and become refugees."

A dignitary from al-Hadaek, where the police station was attacked several days ago, called for forming popular security committees to guard the entrances to the area.

"People are worried for their own safety and livelihoods, and therefore, they have weapons," commented Ahmed Salem, a government employee. "When things settle down, they will turn them in."

Abdul Karim Khalifa, a trader in Benghazi, said that he hoped the security campaign would "continue and not stop after a certain period of time so those abusers may not return".

Meanwhile, scores of civil society organisations demonstrated Friday in the eastern part of country to demand that the army and police play an effective role in securing the people and enforcing state authority and legitimacy.

They carried banners in support of army and police and in rejection of armed militias.

"Benghazi is not Kandahar!" one banner read.

On Sunday, meanwhile, Prime Minister Ali Zidan discussed an impending government reshuffle involving a number of ministries. He noted that three ministers have already tended their resignations.

"We're still talking to the ministers concerned, and after that, we'll know the cabinet reshuffle," AFP quoted Zidan as saying.

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