Libya’s UN-backed government, which arrived in Tripoli amid threats by rival factions, has held meetings at a heavily guarded naval base in Tripoli.
The leaders arrived at the base by ship from neighbouring Tunisia on Wednesday in a high-risk effort to take power, after opponents prevented them from flying in by closing down Tripoli’s airspace.
Reports of sporadic gunfire and roadblocks leading into Tripoli emerged on Wednesday, with questions raised whether violence would erupt, or a peaceful transition of power would ensue.
Western powers hope the new government will request and channel foreign support to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, deal with migrant flows from Libya towards Europe, and restore oil production to shore up its economy.
Thursday’s meetings saw members of the unity government’s seven-member Presidential Council meet political supporters, local council leaders, businessmen and central bank governor Sadiq al-Kabir.
Abdulrahman Taweel, a brigadier general in charge of organising protection for the new government, described the base as “completely secured”.
“We are working to secure all other state institutions,” he told Reuters news agency without elaborating.
“The council is here to stay and to continue their work here in Tripoli. They will not leave except for international meetings and will return.”
The Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord (GNA) emerged from a deal mediated by the UN and signed in December to overcome an impasse that saw rival governments in Tripoli and Bayda competing for power.
Tripoli has been mostly calm since the new government’s arrival, though a television station that supports the National Salvation government went off air late on Wednesday and there were brief clashes near the city centre.
Martin Kobler, the UN envoy for Libya, welcomed the arrival of the council in Tripoli and urged all public bodies to facilitate a peaceful and orderly handover of power.
“I call on the Libyan people to extend to the Presidency Council and the Government of National Accord their full support and cooperation,” Kobler said.
“The international community stands firmly behind them and is ready to provide the required support and assistance.”
‘Leave or surrender’
Tripoli is home to a complex web of armed groups, some of which formed the Libya Dawn alliance that helped the National Salvation government seize power in 2014.
That alliance is now splintered and some powerful brigades have pledged support for the GNA. But others have either not declared their loyalties or said they would oppose it.
In a statement late on Wednesday, National Salvation government head Khalifa Ghwell called the Presidential Council “infiltrators” and said he was giving them a last chance to “leave or surrender”.
Libyan Grand Mufti Sadiq Al-Ghariani, an influential figure among some of Tripoli’s armed groups, called for the UN-brokered deal to be revised and for the GNA to leave the country “before we open the door of jihad on them”.
The new government has, however, received the endorsement of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, a semi-official armed faction that controls key eastern oil installations, some of which it has shut down amid political disputes.