Gunmen on Monday demanded the Libyan government’s resignation as they besieged ministries despite the adoption of a law to purge officials from the regime of slain leader Muammar Gaddafi from their posts.
“We are determined to continue our movement until the departure of (Prime Minister) Ali Zeidan,” said Osama Kaabar, a leader of the militias who had promised to lift their siege if the law was passed.
The General National Congress, under pressure from the gunmen, on Sunday voted through the controversial law to exclude former Gaddafi regime officials from public posts in a move that could see the premier removed from office.
Politicians debated the draft law for months, but the issue came to a head this week when heavily armed groups took control of two ministries and stormed other institutions including the state broadcaster.
The decision to hold the vote under duress could embolden the armed groups to use force again to assert their will over parliament.
Zeidan, a diplomat under Gaddafi who defected to the exiled opposition in 1980, could be among those barred from office, although this remained unclear and a parliament spokesman said it would be decided by a committee charged with implementing the law.
Although the law passed with an overwhelming majority of 164 votes in favor and just four against, many congress members were upset.
“It’s a very unfair and extreme law, but we need to put national interests first in order to solve the crisis,” said Tawfiq Breik, spokesman for the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA) bloc, Libya’s largest parliamentary coalition.
Diplomats in Tripoli complained that holding the vote under duress had undermined its legitimacy, while a human rights group called on parliament to reject the draft.
“The GNC should not allow itself to be railroaded into making very bad laws because groups of armed men are demanding it,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, a Human Rights Watch director in the region, in a statement.
“Libya’s long-term prospects for peace and security will be seriously diminished if the congress agrees to nod through this law,” she added.
Hundreds of people filled Tripoli’s main square to celebrate the passing of the law, many of them shooting guns into the air.
“Being unjust to a few is better than defeating the whole objective of the law,” said one of the participants.
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.
A spokesman for parliament admitted it was unclear whether the vote would be enough to dislodge the gunmen from their positions outside the government buildings.
“We hope the siege of the ministries will stop now, but it is not in our hands,” General National Congress (GNC) spokesman Omar Hmaiden told a news conference after the vote.
More than a dozen vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft weapons and machine guns remained parked outside the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry has been similarly encircled for a week.
One of the men stationed by a machine gun in front of the Justice Ministry, said the group came from different areas close to the capital Tripoli and ahead of the vote vowed they would stay until the prime minister had been forced from office.
“We have been asking them to deal with Gaddafi’s friends for a year,” he said.
Congress members say the law could be applied to around 40 others in the 200-member parliament, including the president of the assembly Mohammed Magarief who became an exiled leader of Libya’s oldest opposition movement in the 1980s after serving as an ambassador under Gaddafi.
The law does not make provisions for those, like him, who spent decades in exile and were instrumental in toppling Gaddafi.
The law prohibits former officials from holding any position in government or even belonging to a political party. It will also ban them from leadership roles in the country’s state firms, like the National Oil Corporation, its universities and judicial bodies.