TRIPOLI, Libya – Members of Libya's interim ruling council are trying to work out the makeup of a new government after deciding to remove the country's Cabinet just five months after it took office, members said Friday.
Leadership of the National Transitional Council appeared hesitant and shaken, as it failed to come up with an official announcement over the ouster of the Cabinet. The council's spokesman, Mohammed al-Hareizi, denied that the NTC had sacked the government, while other members said the decision has been made but it is pending an agreement on replacing the Cabinet.
The back-and-forth indicated the confusion in Libya's decision-making and power struggles among different groups ahead of the country's first national elections, a major landmark in the transition after the fall last year of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. The election is to choose a 200-member assembly tasked with forming a new government and write a new constitution.
Both the NTC and el-Keib's government have faced persistent criticism that they have been ineffective in tackling the multiple troubles facing the deeply divided nation — and the two sides have traded accusations over who is to blame.
Two members of the NTC, Fathi Baja and Moussa al-Kouni, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the council had voted to remove the government during a meeting the day before. But, they said, the council did not intend to make the decision public until a replacement was decided. Baja said 56 of the council's 72 members attended and most of them supported the no-confidence motion.
"There is an agreement inside the council to oust el-Keib government," he said.
NTC spokesman al-Hareizi described the report as "baseless" in a brief statement carried on the official news agency LANA.
Al-Amin Belhaj, another NTC member and a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the council will meet on Sunday to finalize the extent of the government reshuffle, suggesting that part of the Cabinet could be retained. He said a formal vote had not been held Wednesday. Another member Ahmed al-Abbar described the upcoming meeting on Sunday as "decisive."
A witness who attended Wednesday's meeting told AP that members made a show of hands that reflected a strong majority calling for removing the government. But there were sharp divisions over who would replace el-Keib, said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Islamists in the council support Mustafa Abu-Shakour, el-Keib's deputy. Others oppose appointing a senior member of a Cabinet they say has failed, suggesting Labor Minister Mustafa al-Rajbani instead, according to Baja.
El-Keib assumed his post in November, after an eight-month civil war that ended with the capture and killing of Gadhafi in October.
Lately, el-Keib and the NTC exchanged angry accusations over who was responsible for the failure to integrate revolutionary fighters into government forces, form a national army and disarm militias, as well as the alleged waste of billions of dollars in a program intended to treat wounded fighters abroad.
Baja said the decision to dismiss the Cabinet came after a stormy meeting between el-Keib and six of his ministers with top NTC members on Tuesday.
"El-Keib was very angry, and he wouldn't listen to our complaints," Baja said.
On state TV, el-Keib harshly criticized the NTC on Wednesday, accusing the council's members of hindering his government's work and delaying elections.
Speaking to the AP, a former official in el-Keib's government accused the NTC of trying to sway government decisions to serve personal interests. For instance, he said, members within the NTC wanted to appoint a group of ambassadors.
"It is the right of the NTC to monitor the work of the government but it is not its right to impose things on it," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the issue. "Changing the government now only means that they want to find ways to stay in power and postpone elections."
Gadhafi was ousted in August last year after a monthslong civil war, and was killed two months later. Still, the country is struggling to restore security. Armed militias that fought Gadhafi's forces are refusing to lay down their arms.
On Friday, three explosions outside a courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi wounded three people and caused some damage to the building and its surrounding structures, according to LANA.
Abdel-Basit Haroun, a militia commander, said the attackers wanted to free the only defendant being held on charges of killing rebel military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis, who was killed in late July. He said the defendant remained in custody.
Michael reported from Cairo.