TRIPOLI, Libya – Libya's new prime minister on Tuesday put forward a Cabinet for parliamentary approval, but protesters stormed the building during the session, forcing a postponement of the vote on the new government.
Around 100 protesters, a mix of bearded civilians and self-proclaimed rebels, broke into the hall during a session in which Ali Zidan, the new prime minister, was telling the National General Congress that he tried to strike a geographic balance among different regions and cities.
The protesters faced little resistance as they entered, and a local TV station showed video of the break-in before it went off air. The protesters had various complaints about the nominated ministers, including that some had connections to the ousted regime of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Interim President Mohammed al-Megarif talked to the protesters, and they left the hall. Then they returned, forcing the parliament to postpone the vote on the new Cabinet until Wednesday.
"Let Libyans know the atmosphere in which we operate," al-Megarif said. "The least we can say about what happened is that it is pressure on the Congress members." He said criticism of the Cabinet was welcomed but appealed for a peaceful expression of opinion.
"The Congress represents legitimacy in this country," he said.
A year after the overthrow and death of Gadhafi, Libyans are seeking a broader distribution of political power among the country's three main regions, after decades of domination and discrimination by the dictator's highly centralized state based in the capital, Tripoli.
The new Cabinet faces the herculean task of reigning in a mushrooming number of armed groups, filled mostly with former rebel fighters who defeated Gadhafi's forces during last year's eight-month civil war. The government must also build state institutions such as the judiciary, police, military and others from scratch, and rebuild cities and towns demolished during the conflict.
Zidan, a former human rights lawyer chosen Oct. 14, is the second prime minister to be named by the 200-member parliament. Legislators dismissed his predecessor, Mustafa Abushaqur, after they said he had put forward unknown people for key Cabinet posts and proposed a government lacking diversity.
Zidan said he held talks with the country's political parties including the two biggest blocs in parliament, the Alliance of National Forces, led by liberal wartime Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, and the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Justice and Construction Party. Such talks are seen important to ensure that his 27-member Cabinet lineup passes the vote of confidence.
The proposed Cabinet gives the interior and defense portfolios to ministers from Libya's second largest city, Benghazi, and reserves at least two posts for ministers from the third largest city, Misrata. Two proposed ministers are women. The protesters named the proposed foreign minister and religious endowment ministers as linked to Gadhafi's regime.
The new Cabinet will also have to deal with the displacement of tens of thousands of residents of the western town of Bani Walid. The town, a stronghold of Gadhafi's loyalists, fell in a battle to pro-government forces last week.
After rounding up a number of suspects, pro-government militias withdrew from the town. Abdullah Boushnaf, named head of Bani Walid's city council, complained the government had no plan to fill the vacuum and said the situation was "disastrous."
"We don't understand what is happening. The government made promises and said that there are plans to bring back the displaced, but nothing has happened until now. Looters are taking over everything from public to private properties," he said.
The chaos mounted with recent remarks from outgoing Defense Minister Osama al-Gweili, who claimed on Monday that the forces that took over Bani Walid were not under the government control, calling them just "militias."
Al-Gweili is from the western mountain town of Zintan, which has close ties with Bani Walid and whose fighters opposed military action against the town.
Al-Gweili's remarks underscore the absence of a clear mechanism of decision making by Libya's rulers.
Al-Megarif said earlier this month that the forces leading the offensive on Bani Walid had state backing, and his military chief of staff, Youssef al-Mangoush, said that he sent reinforcements. The contradictions show how tribal loyalties play major roles in decision making.