Gunmen Ransack Libya's Parliament During Vote on New Prime Minister

Gunmen Ransack Libya's Parliament During Vote on New Prime Minister

Gunmen stormed Libya’s National Parliament Tuesday and started shooting, forcing lawmakers to abandon a vote on the country’s next prime minister. 

Parliamentary spokesman Omar Hmeidan told Reuters that rioters armed with knives and guns stormed the legislature building, torching furniture, killing a guard, and wounding six lawmakers in the latest episode of turmoil in the country. The attackers were linked to an unnamed defeated prime minister candidate. 

The gunmen took the seat of the Parliament’s president, who is the head of a main Islamist bloc, tied it to a lamppost outside, and set it on fire.

Libya Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni resigned two weeks ago after political opponents targeted him and his family for assassination. Members of Parliament have been deadlocked over appointing a new prime minister after local businessman and top vote-getter Ahmed Maiteeq did not receive the over 50% of the vote in a seven-way contest necessary to be appointed to the position.

As the second round of voting between Maiteeq and the runner-up Omar al-Hasi was about to take place, gunmen burst into the assembly hall and began shooting. BBC correspondents said lawmakers ran out of the building after hearing gunshots.

Since Colonel Gaddafi’s forty-two-year brutal reign ended in August of 2011, Libya has struggled to establish basic institutions and rule of law, with brigades of militias and former rebels challenging the authority of the weak central government.

Tensions were high in the country after Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and dozens of former government officials have appeared in a Tripoli court on April 27th to face charges ranging from war crimes to corruption. According to Libya’s official news agency, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam appeared via video-link for the trial from the western town of Zintan where he has been held since his capture by former rebels who are now refusing to hand him over to the Libyan government authorities in the capital city of Tripoli.

The government of the oil-producing North African state has been unable to control heavily armed militias who received U.S. and NATO support and arms to help oust Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. After the revolution the militias have refused to disarm and have carved out regional fiefs.

With the Parliament building and furniture torched, Libya’s parliament moved into a five-star Tripoli Waddan hotel in the capital’s downtown. The BBC’s Rana Jawad in Tripoli said Libya’s national congress has been stormed on dozens of occasions by gunmen over the past year and a half.