Dozens of armed men staged a show of force at a hotel used as a headquarters by Libya’s presidential council as the nation’s deep divisions resurfaced.
The armed men were seen late on Friday at the entrance of the Hotel Corinthia in the heart of the capital Tripoli, according to images on social media. Local press labelled them “militias”.
Presidential council spokeswoman Najwa Wheba confirmed that armed men stormed “one of the headquarters where the council meets”.
She told Libya’s LANA news agency “no one was harmed” as the council does not work on Fridays, the weekly day of rest in Libya.
However, a senior official at Libya’s new Presidency Council denied on Saturday that men who entered the hotel had been armed or used force.
“There was no kidnapping, gunfire, or an attack on me or the hotel,” the head of the Presidency Council’s office, Mohamed al-Mabrouk, said in a social media video, adding he had been in the hotel at the time of the incident.
Mabrouk said the head of the Presidency Council, which functions as Libya’s head of state for now, would meet with the groups involved.
The show of force comes as the implementation of a UN Security Council call for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries rekindles divisions within the unity government.
A unified government?
On Monday, Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush, who is from the east, angered many in Tripoli and the west with a call for Turkey to withdraw troops it deployed during the civil war.
Those troops are widely credited in the Libyan capital with finally defeating a devastating year-long offensive by eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar in June last year. He received backing from several countries, notably Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
Friday’s incident underscores the continued risks to the unity government. Both the Presidency Council and Government of National Unity have faced both internal criticisms and challenges to their authority.
In eastern Libya, Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) still hold sway nearly a year after their 14-month offensive to seize the capital collapsed. In Tripoli, the armed groups that pushed Haftar back from the capital with Turkish support still control the streets.
Foreign mercenaries remain entrenched on both sides of the heavily fortified front line, despite international calls for the warring sides to pull them from the country.
Last week, Foreign Minister al-Mangoush repeated the call for all foreign fighters to leave while standing next to visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Turkey says its military presence in Libya is different to that of other foreign forces because it was invited by the previous UN-recognised government and it will not withdraw until others do.
Before the hotel was stormed on Friday, an operations room for the Tripoli armed groups said on social media it met to discuss “irresponsible statements” by al-Mangoush and later called on the GNU to formally reject Haftar.
An October ceasefire created a unified government – led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and the presidential council – as part of a United Nations roadmap for December elections.
In March, the UN Security Council called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries, estimated to number as many as 20,000.
Libya was plunged into chaos after longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, and over the years the conflict has drawn in several foreign powers.
An interim unity government finally came into being in March, replacing rival administrations in east and west, and aims to lead Libya to the elections.