Libyan militia rocket ignites fuel depot

Smoke fills the sky over Tripoli, Libya, after a rocket attack by militants in early August. (Sabri Elmhedwi / European Pressphoto Agency / August 3, 2014)

Armed militiamen have seized control of most Libyan government ministries in the capital, Tripoli, the transitional government acknowledged early Monday, in the latest sign of a dramatic deterioration of Libya’s trappings of statehood.

Energy-rich Libya has slipped ever deeper into chaos since the toppling of longtime dictator Moammar Kadafi in 2011. The armed groups that were allies in the fight to depose him have turned on one another, fighting for oil wealth and political control.

The government and the elected parliament last month decamped to the eastern city of Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, and Islamist-linked militias from the western city of Misrata hold sway in the capital, having driven out rival armed groups. Libya now has two competing parliaments, with each declaring the other illegitimate.

In the latest chaotic development in Tripoli, gunmen surrounded government offices, threatened ministers with assassination and prevented employees from entering their workplaces, the transitional administration said in its statement, adding that “most of the ministries and institutions and commissions” in Tripoli were now outside its control.

It called on the armed groups to leave voluntarily -- something that appears highly unlikely to happen. “May Allah preserve Libya,” the statement concluded.

Meanwhile, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives on Monday reappointed Abdullah Thinni as prime minister and asked him to form a new government. Thinni was originally named prime minister in March, but that was challenged by the Islamist-dominated General National Congress, the rival parliament that has refused to disband.

The American Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated more than a month ago due to heavy fighting in the capital, and on Sunday, online images surfaced of militiamen frolicking in a swimming pool in a residential annex of the embassy. The State Department said the embassy compound itself did not appear to have been breached, and an Islamist-affiliated militia declared that it was guarding the embassy premises.

Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report from Irbil, Iraq.

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