Gunmen still hold Libya ministries after ban on Gaddafi officials

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Gunmen refused to give up control of two ministries in Libya’s capital on Monday, even after Libya’s parliament caved in to their demand and banned any senior official under dictator Muammar Gaddafi from holding government posts.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The new law, passed with an overwhelming majority on Sunday, could embolden the armed groups to flex their military muscle further and undermine the already weak transitional government set up in the wake of the 2011 civil war that toppled Gaddafi.

It could also unseat the prime minister and the leader of the parliament, both of whom helped rally the exiled opposition to Gaddafi from the 1980s. Other top administrators could also be removed from office leading to a significant skills gap.

“If members of the High Electoral Commission are forced to resign as a result of the political isolation law, finding their replacements will take time, as will the eventual drafting of electoral laws,” said Geoff Porter, head of North Africa Risk Consulting.

“All of which will cumulatively delay the election of a constitutional committee and thereby prolong the transition government way beyond its intended mandate.”

Nearly two years after Gaddafi was overthrown, the gunmen who fought to end his 42-year dictatorship are refusing to lay down their arms and go back to civilian life - militiamen are more visible than Libyan state forces in the capital.

The cabinet and Libya’s official armed forces are so weak that swathes of the oil-producing desert country have long been outside central government control.

Gunmen then seized the Foreign Ministry more than a week ago and the Justice Ministry last Tuesday.

Parliament is due to form a commission to decide how to implement the sweeping law; the list of jobs held under Gaddafi that would lead to disqualification from politics and executive roles in state firms still leaves room for debate in some cases.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, a diplomat under Gaddafi until he defected to the exiled opposition in 1980, could be among those barred from office.

Fearing the commission was a ruse to persuade the militias to relinquish control of the ministries and then not implement the law, gunmen said they would stay in place till the measure was put into practice.

“A couple of the groups have left, but we are going to stay until the law is applied because we don’t trust them to implement the measures,” said one of the gunmen at the Justice Ministry.

Additional reporting by Hani Amara; Editing by Jon Hemming