Gunmen stormed the headquarters of a Libyan television station, as the authorities in control of Tripoli demanded the departure of the newly-arrived prime minister designate in a blow to hopes for a peaceful power handover.
Armed men burst into the headquarters of satellite TV station Al-Nabaa in central Tripoli late Wednesday, cut its transmissions and forced out its staff, according to two journalists from the channel.
The channel is close to the unrecognised authorities in control of Tripoli. One Al-Nabaa journalist said the gunmen appeared to be supporters of the UN-backed unity government, whose head Fayez al-Sarraj arrived in the capital Wednesday to the fury of the rival authorities.
“A group of armed men, some of them in fatigues and some in civilian clothing, stormed our offices and gathered the employees in one room,” an Al-Nabaa staff member told. A colleague said broadcasting had been suspended, adding that no one had been hurt.
Sarraj, a businessman named prime minister-designate under a UN-brokered power-sharing deal in December, had arrived by sea earlier Wednesday with a naval escort along with several members of his cabinet.
But in a sign of the formidable challenge facing his government, Tripoli’s unrecognised authorities demanded that he leave the capital or “hand himself in”.
“Those who entered illegally and secretly must surrender or turn back,” the head of the Tripoli authorities Khalifa Ghweil said in a televised address. “We won’t leave Tripoli as long as we are not sure of the fate of our homeland.”
Tripoli’s government had declared a state of emergency ahead of Sarraj’s anticipated arrival, and several main highways were blocked late yesterday by armed groups — some uniformed and others in civilian clothes — who arrived aboard military vehicles, a reporter said.
Afriqiyah Airlines and Libyan Airlines announced on their Facebook pages that they had cancelled flights to Tripoli over “security concerns”.
Residents hurried home as cracks of gunfire could be heard around the capital.
Libya has had two rival administrations since mid-2014 when a militia alliance overran the capital, setting up its own authority and forcing the internationally recognised parliament to flee to the country’s remote east.
International leaders, increasingly alarmed by the rise of jihadists and people-smugglers in the impoverished North African state, have urged Libya’s political rivals to support the unity government.
But so far the two administrations have refused to cede power.