On Tuesday, the Libyan capital was hit by a shootout between supporters of the two rival administrations, threatening another escalation in the war-torn North African country.

Supporters of the government, approved by the Libyan parliament and the military based in the east, tried to force their way into the western city of Tripoli.

This sparked pre-dawn clashes with armed groups supporting interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeib.

Hours later, they came out, citing “the safety and security of citizens,” as the United Nations, the European Union and the United States called for calm.

There were no immediate reports of fighting casualties, but AFP correspondents saw burnt cars and military convoys on the main highway later Tuesday.

Dbeiba was appointed as part of a troubled UN-led peace process early last year to lead the transition to the December elections, but the vote was postponed indefinitely.

In February this year, a parliament based in the east appointed rival Prime Minister and former Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga in his place, claiming Dbeiba’s term was over.

Dbeibah refused to hand over power, except for the election administration.

Both men are from the western city of Misurata and are supported by various armed groups in the capital.

Bashagi’s press service announced last night “the arrival of the Prime Minister of the Libyan government, Mr. Fathi Bashagi, accompanied by several ministers in the capital Tripoli to begin their work there.”

But his arrival sparked a battle that raised fears of a return to chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Maamer Gaddafi, and to a full-blown conflict that engulfed the capital when pro-Haftar forces attacked in 2019-20.

Hours later, Basha’s camp announced that he and his ministers had “left Tripoli to preserve the safety and security of the citizens.”

Dbei’s defense ministry said it would respond with an “iron fist” to those who “attacked the safety and security of citizens.”

– Bashagi support “tanked” –

Later, local media published footage of Dbeib’s meeting with members of the public on the streets of the capital.

The Ministry of Education has announced that schools will be closed for now.

Libyan expert Emadeddin Buddy said Bashaga’s move was a “failed attempt at a fait accompli”.

Buddy said Basha “lost much of his constituency in his hometown of Misurata, tarnished his anti-crime brand and is now backed by the people.”

“After that, it will be difficult to collect the pieces,” he wrote on Twitter.

Senior UN official Stephanie Williams tweeted on all sides to remain calm, including avoiding “inflammatory rhetoric.”

Basha said in a video broadcast on Libyan television that he would deliver a “speech of unity to the Libyan people” on Tuesday night.

His interior minister, Isa Abu Zariba, promised that their administration would perform its duties “peacefully” and “in accordance with the law.”

He called on “all security forces and stakeholders to cooperate” in ensuring a smooth transition.

Pro-Basha armed groups have already deployed in March on the outskirts of the capital, raising fears that the volatile ceasefire, which has been in place since October 2020, will collapse.

READ ALSO: Libya loses $ 60 million a day from oil shutdown – minister

– “Very disturbing” –

The creation of the two governments echoes the turbulent period of competing administrations in Libya between 2014 and 2021, when the nation was torn apart by civil war.

The uprising that toppled Gaddafi plunged the vast but sparsely populated country into violence as armed groups fought for control and a number of interim governments came and went.

Many have been integrated into the state, in part to gain access to a share of the country’s vast oil wealth, and human rights groups have accused all parties of abuse.

Basha is backed by Haftar, who spearheaded a failed attempt to capture Tripoli in 2019-20 and is widely hated in the capital.

EU Foreign Minister Joseph Barrel said on Tuesday that the situation had become “very serious”.

“We expected something like this to happen because we had no elections in Libya and we have two governments,” he said. “And sooner or later, when there are two governments, they collide.”

The U.S. Embassy called on “all armed groups to refrain from violence, and political leaders to recognize that seizing or retaining power through violence will only harm the Libyan people.”

The U.S. mission also called for progress toward presidential and parliamentary elections.

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