TRIPOLI Libya's U.N.-backed unity government held meetings at a heavily guarded naval base in Tripoli on Thursday and a senior military official said it was working to secure state institutions in the capital.
The government's leaders arrived at the base by ship from neighbouring Tunisia on Wednesday after opponents prevented them from flying in by closing down Tripoli's airspace and road travel was judged too unsure because of rival militias along the route.
Tripoli, a ancient Mediterranean port city controlled by a self-declared National Salvation government, has been mostly calm since their arrival in a high-risk bid to take power.
A television station that supports the rival government went off air late on Wednesday and there were brief clashes close to the city centre.
On Thursday, members of the unity government's seven-member Presidential Council held meetings at the naval base with political supporters, local council leaders, businessmen and central bank governor Sadiq al-Kabir.
Abdulrahman Taweel, a brigadier general in charge of organising protection for the new government, described the base as "completely secured".
"We are working to secure all other state institutions," he told Reuters without elaborating. "The Council is here to stay and to continue their work here in Tripoli. They will not leave except for international meetings and will return."
The Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord (GNA) emerged from a U.N.-mediated deal signed in December to overcome an impasse that saw rival governments in Tripoli and in Tobruk claiming to run the country.
The political confusion in Libya since the 2011 fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi has allowed Islamic State to take hold in and around the city of Sirte, Gaddafi's former stronghold further east along the coast.
Western powers hope the new government will be able to request and channel foreign support for confronting Islamic State and tackling migrant flows from Libya towards Europe.
They have recognised it as Libya's sole legitimate government and called for a rapid transfer of power, but both the National Salvation government and the rival administration in the east have rejected this.
NEED FOR BROADER SUPPORT
Critics have questioned how the GNA will be able to start governing without winning broader support and securing a long-sought vote of approval from Libya's internationally recognised parliament in Tobruk.
Tripoli is home to a complex web of armed groups, some of which formed the Libya Dawn alliance that helped the National Salvation government to seize power in 2014.
That alliance is now splintered and some powerful brigades have pledged support for the GNA. But others have either not declared their loyalties or said they will oppose it.
Taweel did not say which brigades were working for the GNA, but said it was receiving protection from the army, military intelligence and police.
He said GNA ministers originally from Tripoli were "not under threat and even move around without security".
The GNA's backers argue that as it establishes a presence on the ground, armed groups and public opinion will coalesce behind it and hardline opposition will fade.
"If they can get control of the country's finances, then power brokers who have been sitting on the fence will come in behind them," said a senior Western diplomat.
However, the GNA's leading public adversaries in Tripoli have so far kept up their vocal opposition.
In a statement late on Wednesday, National Salvation government head Khalifa Ghwell called the Presidential Council "infiltrators", and said he was giving them a last chance to "leave or surrender".
Libyan Grand Mufti Sadiq Al-Gharyani, an influential figure among some of Tripoli's armed groups, called for the U.N.-brokered deal to be revised and for the GNA to leave the country "before we open the door of jihad on them".
(Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis and Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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Published Date: Apr 01, 2016 04:30 am | Updated Date: Apr 01, 2016 04:30 am