October 14, 2014 / 7:49 PM / 3 years ago

Tripoli's new rulers take over Libya government, oil company websites

BENGHAZI Libya (Reuters) - A self-declared government set up by an armed group that seized the Libyan capital in August has taken over the websites of the state administration and the national oil company, adding to confusion over who is running the country.

A rebel fighter from the city of Misrata smokes a cigarette as he stands guard on the road to the airport in the southern Libyan city of Sabha April 2, 2012. REUTERS/Anis Mili

With Libya’s official government and parliament now operating from towns hundreds of miles east of Tripoli, the armed group, from the western city of Misrata, that has seized ministry buildings in the capital now controls their websites.

The website of Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni - who now sits with his cabinet in the eastern city of Bayda - shows the picture of the man the Misrata rebels have declared as prime minister, Omar al-Hasi, and lists the names of his team.

The group, which calls itself the National Salvation government, has also taken over the website of the National Oil Corp. Next to tender offers, the website features the picture of the self-declared government’s oil minister.

Libya’s neighbors and Western powers fear the conflict between the two rival governments could drag the OPEC member into civil war.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after meeting with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Dairi in Paris on Tuesday, pledged continued U.S. support to Libya’s official government and reiterated his opposition to outside intervention in the country, a senior State Department official said.

Last month, the United Nations, which recognizes Thinni’s government, launched talks aimed at solving the crisis by bringing together members of the House of Representatives and Misrata lawmakers who have boycotted the assembly since it convened in August in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border.

The talks have not taken in armed factions from Misrata or a rival militia allied to the western city of Zintan who battled Misrata forces in Tripoli for more than a month over the summer.

But diplomats hope that since Misrata members from the house are indirectly linked to a rival parliament that has been set up in Tripoli, the talks will start a broader political dialogue.

BENGHAZI FIGHTING

The fluid situation in Tripoli has been exacerbated by a separate conflict between pro-government forces fighting Islamist fighters in the main eastern city of Benghazi, home to several state oil firms.

Three members of an irregular force commanded by defected general Khalifa Haftar but still allied to the army were killed on Tuesday by three road-side bombs near the airport, an area that Islamists have been trying to take, army sources said.

The airport is one of the last government-held areas in Benghazi after the Islamists overran several army camps in August.

In a televised speech, Haftar said the next few days would be difficult for Benghazi and Libya. “The men of the Operation Dignity are ready to liberate Benghazi,” he said, referring to his campaign against Islamists that has failed so far to show any big success on the ground.

“We have been able to organize ourselves now like we couldn’t do at the start of our campaign,” Haftar said, without elaborating. In May, he had declared war on Islamsits in the country’s east.

Activists in Benghazi have been calling for a protest on Wednesday against militias, and some families, anticipating violence, were seen leaving the city. Others rushed to buy food before locking themselves into their houses, residents said.

The Misrata forces and Islamists have dismissed Haftar as a warlord allied to the old Gaddafi regime. He used to be close to the former strongman until both fell out in the eighties.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Feras Bosalum, Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Ken Wills

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