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Libyan militias intensify pressure on liberal politicians

| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

TRIPOLI — Gunmen swooped in on trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and surrounded Libya's Justice Ministry on Tuesday, cutting off roads and forcing employees out of the building in the latest show of muscle by militiamen to press demands on how Libya should be run more than a year after Moammar Gadhafi's ouster.

Over the past three days, militiamen stormed the headquarters of the interior ministry and state-run TV and besieged the foreign ministry while publicly calling for the removal of Gadhafi-era officials from government posts and the passage of the so-called “isolation law,” which would bar from political life anyone who held any position — even minor — under the ousted autocrat's regime.

However, analysts and democracy advocates believe militiamen are using the isolation law as a way to get rid of Prime Minister Ali Zidan, who has vowed to restore the authority of the state and disband the armed groups that have become a power unto themselves in Libya. Many of the militias have an Islamist ideology, while Zidan is viewed as more secular and liberal.

“In essence, this is a power struggle between liberals and Islamists. This is a very dangerous turn that could force Zidan to step down,” said political analyst Saad al-Arial. “Each wants to push the other aside, and the way to do so is in parliament and in the street.”

Zidan is backed by the Alliance of National Forces, a bloc that holds the biggest number of seats in parliament. It is led by Mahmoud Jibril, a liberal-leaning figure who served as the opposition's prime minister during the civil war that led to Gadhafi's ouster and death in the autumn of 2011.

With the oil-rich North African nation trying to write a constitution and chart its post-Gadhafi path, the alliance has been locked in a power struggle with Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

The militias are rooted in the armed brigades that arose during the civil war to fight Gadhafi's army. But since his fall, they have mushroomed in numbers and strength, operating as local powers and often as outright gangs, though they claim “revolutionary” credentials.

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