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Confusion surrounds alleged resignation of Libyan PM

AFP | Libya's Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni

Libya’s internationally recognised prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, said in a live TV interview Tuesday that he would resign, but the move was immediately denied by a government spokesman.

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Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said in a live televised interview that he would resign after the station’s host confronted him with questions from angry citizens who criticised his government for failing to bring security to the country, which remains riven by rival militias including the Islamic State group.

But government spokesman Hatem al-Arabi quickly told Reuters that Thinni would be staying on, adding that the premier had only meant he would be willing to quit if the people demanded it.

Thinni became angry during the Tuesday interview with the private Libya Channel station when the host presented him with questions from viewers who criticised Thinni for the lack of security, dwindling government services and the lack of aid for people displaced by the fighting.

The presenter then asked Thinni what he would do if faced with widespread public protests and calls for him to step down.

Thinni responded: “People do not need to protest against me because I officially resign from my position.”

“I officially resign and I will submit my resignation to the House of Representatives on Sunday,” Thinni said.

“They can bring a new prime minister with magic to solve all the problems,” he added.

But cabinet spokesman Arabi denied that Thinni had resigned and said he was simply making a point.

“The prime minister has not resigned officially. He said during the television interview that he would resign if the street demands it.”

“A resignation needs to be handed in writing to the House of Representatives, which would accept or reject it,” Arabi said.

Thinni under fire

Thinni has been based in Tobruk in eastern Libya since his government fled Tripoli a year ago after the city was seized by an armed group that set up a rival Islamist-backed administration, the General National Congress, in the capital.

The country has been besieged by unrest as rival militias battle for control of territory ever since the 2011 ouster of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Critics say Thinni's cabinet mainly puts out statements that have no relevance. On Monday his government announced that Tripoli International Airport would be renamed after the late King Idris, who was toppled by Gaddafi in 1969.

But the airport has been out of action since it was damaged when Tripoli was seized a year ago. Thinni’s administration has no control over the airport.

In office since March 2014, Thinni earlier said he would resign in April 2014 after his family was attacked. No one was injured in that incident and Thinni decided to stay on. His government tried to resign again in August 2014 after the Islamists set up their rival administration.

His cabinet – relegated to working out of hotels in Libya's east – has struggled to re-establish order across the country, notably in the remote eastern city of Bayda, where citizens complain about shortages of fuel and a worsening security situation.

Libya’s east has been especially hit hard by the chaos as fighting between forces allied to Thinni and Islamist groups has choked off wheat and fuel imports. The violence has also disrupted the power grid.

Libya also struggles with a public finance crisis as the chaos has cut oil production to a quarter of what the OPEC member produced before Gaddafi was ousted.

Ministries and key state buildings in Tripoli remain under the control of the rival administration, which has its own premier and administration but which has not been recognised by the international community.

“His government is a failure,” Benghazi lawmaker Amal Bayou posted on her Facebook website in reaction to the resignation announcement, calling Thinni incompetent.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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