The Libyan prime minister was ousted by parliament on Tuesday after a tanker laden with crude oil from a rebel-held terminal broke through a naval blockade and escaped to sea, underscoring the weakness of the central government.
A no-confidence motion was approved by 124 of the 194 members of the General National Congress, four more than the majority required, lawmakers said.
Ousted Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan was temporarily replaced by Libyan Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who was sworn in as caretaker prime minister until a permanent replacement can be chosen within the next two weeks, a statement said.
Libya’s top prosecutor late on Tuesday slapped a travel ban on Zeidan because of his suspected involvement in the embezzlement of public funds, according to a document published on his office’s Facebook page, but Libyan media reported that Zeidan had already left the country.
Zeidan, an independent who had been supported by liberals, proved incapable of bringing to heel former rebel militia that carved out their own fiefdoms after the 2011 uprising that ended former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s four-decade rule. The beleaguered prime minister was even briefly abducted by rebel militia in the heart of the capital in October last year.
Earlier on Tuesday, in a final humiliation for Zeidan, a North Korean-flagged tanker that had taken on oil from a rebel-held terminal in the east slipped by naval vessels deployed to intercept it.
The Morning Glory, which docked in al-Sidra on Saturday and is reported to have loaded at least 234,000 barrels of crude, is the first vessel to have done so from a rebel-held terminal since the challenge against the Tripoli authorities erupted in July last year.
Zeidan’s government had threatened armed action, even an air strike, to prevent the tanker getting away with the oil bought from the rebels’ self-declared autonomous government without the authorization of state-owned Libyan National Oil Corp.
Bad weather prevented small naval vessels — mostly fast patrol boats — from following the huge ship out into the Mediterranean, lawmakers said.
Warships had deployed to block the Morning Glory after Libyan Culture Minister Amin al-Habib warned on Sunday that the tanker would be “turned into a pile of metal” if it tried to leave port.
The government has said a task force composed of both regular troops and former rebel militia is being formed to bring the rebel ports back under central government control within a week, but analysts warned that any resort to force risks plunging Libya into civil war and damaging the country’s vital oil infrastructure.
The standoff between Tripoli and the eastern rebels has already slashed Libyan oil exports from 1.5 million barrels a day to just 250,000, dealing a massive blow to the North African country’s key revenue earner.
The former rebels are demanding the restoration of the autonomy that the eastern region of Cyrenaica enjoyed for the first 12 years after Libyan independence in 1951.
They insist that all oil sales they make will be transparent, but that revenues from eastern exports should be kept by the region.
Washington said on Sunday it was “deeply concerned” over the oil shipment, saying it amounted to “theft from the Libyan people.”
Zeidan had warned that the country faced chaos if he were ousted without a consensus on his replacement, but members of parliament (MPs) were angry over the government’s failure to make good on its threat to stop the tanker by force if necessary.
“The situation in the country has become unacceptable. Even those MPs who used to support the prime minister no longer have any alternative,” lawmaker Suad Gannur said.
US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington would “continue to support the democratically elected Libyan government and its people.”
“We appreciate the leadership of the prime minister, who navigated a fragile time in Libya’s transition,” she added.