Clashes have erupted between rival Libyan militias in the centre of Tripoli, with the sound of gunfire echoing through the heavily populated part of the capital city threatening two years of relative peace following a ceasefire deal.
The violence early on Saturday comes in the wake of a build-up of rival forces in Tripoli over the past week, who are jostling for power, as the North African country remains divided between rival administrations in the east and the west.
The country’s democratic transition was delayed after the presidential elections scheduled for last December were postponed indefinitely.
Tensions have risen after Fathi Bashagha, backed by the east-based parliament, was sworn in as prime minister in February, amid calls for Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the head of the transitional government based in Tripoli, to cede power. The United Nations had voiced concern after the Tobruk-based parliament voted to install Bashagha as prime minister.
Under a UN deal signed last year, Dbeibah was expected to hand over power after the December presidential elections. Dbeibah has refused to step aside, pledging to hold on to power until elections take place.
Local media reported that houses and cars were damaged in the clashes between fighters from rival militia leaders – Haitham al-Tajouri and Abdel-Ghani al-Kikli.A spokesman for the ambulance and emergency services in Tripoli, Osama Ali, held parties involved in the clashes responsible for the safety of civilians, reported local media. He called on those involved to cease all violence.
Unconfirmed reports of several being injured circulated over social media on Saturday.
Local media reported that the coastal road linking the cities of Al-Khoms and Zlitan was closed in anticipation of the movement of forces affiliated with Bashagha from Misrata towards Tripoli.
Oil-rich Libya has been wracked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.