Tue, Apr 30, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Gunmen surround Libyan ministry to push demands

AFP, TRIPOLI

Dozens of gunmen kept Libya’s foreign ministry under siege for a second straight day yesterday demanding it sack officials from the regime of former Libyan leaderMuammar Qaddafi.

About 30 vehicles, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, and armed men have encircled the ministry since Sunday. Placards calling for the adoption of a law aimed at political expulsions of Qaddafi-era officials hung on the gate of the ministry building yesterday.

“The ministry is closed,” said Aymen Mohamed Aboudeina, part of a group of protesters, adding that “talks will be initiated in the coming hours with the concerned ministries.”

He said the “siege” will be lifted when the protesters’ demands are met through a vote in the General National Congress — the highest political authority in Libya — on a bill calling for the expulsion of former regime employees.

On Sunday, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denounced the encircling of the foreign ministry and other attacks targeting the interior ministry and the national television in Tripoli.

“These attacks will never get us down and we will not surrender,” he told reporters. “Those who think the government is frustrated are wrong. We are very strong and determined.”

He appealed to the people to support the government in resisting armed groups “who want to destabilize the country and terrorize foreigners and embassies,” but added that the government would “not come into confrontation with anyone”.

The congress is studying proposals for a law to exclude former Qaddafi regime officials from top government and political posts.

The proposed law could affect several senior figures in the government and has caused waves in the country’s political class.

Demonstrators last month encircled the assembly itself, trapping members in the building for several hours as they called for the adoption of the law.

After the siege was lifted, gunmen targeted congress head Mohammed Megaryef’s motorcade without causing any casualties.

The siege of the foreign ministry, coming just days after the French embassy in Tripoli was bombed, has raised fresh security fears in the capital and the German embassy has suspended some of its activities.

The German embassy reduced its activities, a spokesman said, after the prime minister’s assertion it had stopped work at its Tripoli mission.

“The German embassy continues to operate, but public access is temporarily restricted,” the spokesman said, declining to say how long the measures would remain in place.

Libya’s government is struggling to assert its influence across the country, where former rebels who fought Qaddafi in the 2011 uprising still control large amounts of territory.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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