TRIPOLI, April 8 (Reuters) - Libya’s parliament asked Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni on Tuesday to form a new government within a week after the cabinet demanded more powers to tackle the disorder crippling the OPEC country.
The weak central government, which must be reconfirmed by parliament every two weeks, has asked for a longer mandate to deal with Libya’s competing political parties, rival militias, regional demands and rebels disrupting the oil industry.
But General National Congress (GNC) spokesman Omar Hmeidan said the parliament would only decide after formation of a new cabinet whether the caretaker government could stay on until a general election expected later this year.
In a sign of the confusion surrounding politics in Libya, the state news agency LANA as well as Libyan and Arab television stations had earlier reported that the cabinet had quit.
“The General National Congress (GNC) has appointed Abdullah Al-Thinni as the prime minister under a condition of forming a government within a week,” Hmeidan told Reuters.
Asked about the resignation reports, cabinet spokesman Ahmed Lamim said: “The government is working normally but there was a letter sent to the General National Congress saying the government needs more authority to work.”
The central government has been unable to control militias that helped oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising but kept their guns and carved out autonomous fiefs. The deepening turmoil has hit the North African state’s lifeblood oil exports.
After sacking Ali Zeidan as prime minister last month over an attempted oil sale by rebels in the volatile east, parliament gave Thinni a mandate that had to be renewed every two weeks.
The latest mandate expired on Monday and cabinet spokesman Lamim said “a few days of extensions don’t help.”
Lawmaker Najah Salouh Abdulsalam said the GNC had written first to Thinni to say that his cabinet was just a caretaker government with no right to make any decisions.
Thinni wrote back asking for more powers so his government can run the country, otherwise it would resign, she said.
Adding to the confusion, lawmaker Sharif al-Wafi said Tuesday’s parliamentary decision to ask Thinni to form a new cabinet was invalid because it had lacked the necessary quorum.
Bowing to public pressure, the GNC has agreed to call new elections later this year but no date has been set. Many Libyans blame factional infighting for Libya’s bumpy transition since the NATO-backed uprising against Gaddafi in 2011.
Parliament is divided among competing factions, Islamists and more moderate forces, with more pressures coming from demands by the different regions in the vast desert country.
Thinni, a former army officer, scored a success earlier this week by working with tribal elders to convince rebels in the volatile east to end a nine-month blockage of oil ports.
The rebels agreed on Sunday to reopen the Zueitina and Hariga ports immediately and two larger ports within a month pending further talks.
The government has promised to compensate the rebel fighters financially and investigate claims of oil corruption, but managed to ignore their demands for regional autonomy and a share of oil sales, according to the published agreement.
The blockage comes on top of protests at western oil facilities which have crippled output to around 150,000 barrels a day from 1.4 million bpd in July, draining state coffers.
Libya’s oil ministry said force majeure, a term to cover legal contractual obligations, was still imposed on the two ports, an oil ministry official said on Tuesday.
“It has not been lifted. NOC has not instructed the ports to export oil yet,” Ibrahim al-Awami said.
Awami said staff at Arabian Gulf Oil Co, which runs the Hariga terminal, had joined a general strike in the eastern city Benghazi that began on Sunday. It was unclear whether this would affect the port’s ability to resume exports.
Workers at Zueitina were doing maintenance and checking facilities before resuming exports, Awami said.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ahmed Elumami, Feras Bosalum and Julia Payne; Editing by Tom Heneghan