Libyan defense minister Barghathi retracts resignation



Libyan gunmen surround the Libyan Justice Ministry on April 30, 2013, in the capital Tripoli.


Mahmud Turkia

Libya's defense minister retracted his Tuesday resignation hours after he tendered it in protest of a weeklong armed siege on the ministries of justice and foreign affairs in Tripoli. 

Defense Minister Mohammed al-Bargathi called the siege — a move by armed groups to exclude all former Gaddafi-era officials from government — an assault on democracy.

"I will never be able to accept that politics can be practiced by the power of weapons ... This is an assault against the democracy I have sworn to protect," said Bargathi, a former Benghazi air force commander who retired in 1994, when dictator Muammar Gaddafi was still in power.

But hours later, Bargathi reversed his decision, with Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's office issuing a statement saying: "The cabinet would like to clarify that the resignation was not officially presented to the prime minister."

"The prime minister has asked the defense minister to renounce it and [he] has confirmed that he will continue his work and expressed his understanding of the present circumstances in the country," the statement added. 

The news came as Deborah Kay Jones on Tuesday spoke with United States senators during her confirmation hearing to replace former US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens. 

Jones, a career diplomat who has served in Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, Ethiopia and Iraq, will be the first ambassador there since last year's attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which claimed Stevens' life, along with three other Americans.

Sen. John McCain said in the hearing that the ministry sieges highlight the need for security in Libya, while also stating that he continues to believe "there remains a desire for democracy and freedom."

On Sunday, Libya's besieged parliament banned from office senior officials who had served under Gaddafi's more than 40-year reign. The Political Isolation Law could exclude up to 40 deputies and remove Prime Minister Ali Zeidan from office. After the vote some armed groups left, but some remained, and the siege drags on.

"The adoption of the law on political exclusion is a major step in the right direction. But we will take our time to examine certain aspects of the law," said Osama Kaabar, a militia group leader and vice president of the Superior Council of Libyan Revolutionaries.

Almost two years after Gaddafi's fall, Bargathi's resignation highlights Libya's struggle to rebuild its government, and secure itself against armed groups left over from the revolution without a functioning army.

A parliament spokesman acknowledged Sunday that the gunman around the ministries could not be forced to leave. "We hope the siege of the ministries will stop now, but it is not in our hands," said Omar Hmaiden.