Libya’s parliament ousted Western-backed prime minister Ali Zidan in a vote on Tuesday, removing the first democratically chosen leader who had struggled for 15 months to stem the country’s spiraling descent into chaos, with divisive political power struggles and rampant militias out of the control of the weak central government.
The government has been paralyzed for months by the power struggle between Islamists in parliament trying to remove Zidan and anti-Islamist political factions — each side backed by rival militias. Zidan’s removal came as another fault line in the country was rumbling – between the central government and the restive eastern half of the country, where many are demanding greater autonomy, with each side again backed by their own militias.
On Tuesday, a powerful militia from the western city of Misrata clashed with a rival eastern militia outside the central city of Sirte in heavy fighting, on a drive to take control of the oil terminal of al-Sidra, further east along the coast.
In the absence of a strong military and police force, the state relies on militias to keep order — but many defy the government, with one of them briefly abducting Zidan himself last year. Further fueling the turmoil, militias have lined up behind the Islamist and anti-Islamist camps, often causing the political disputes to descend into violence.
Islamists in parliament have been trying for months to remove Zidan, who was elected to the post in late 2012. They were finally able to do so Tuesday by making his removal part of a package that includes new parliamentary elections, said Islamist lawmaker Mohammed Bu Sedra and Nouri al-Gamal, a lawmaker from the main anti-Islamist bloc, the National Forces Alliance.