By Maha Suleiman and Ayman Amzein.
Benghazi, 14 February 2015:
Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni is said to have selected General Khalifa Hafter as his . . .[restrict]defence minister and also put him forward as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The controversial moves by the prime minister who has himself held the post of defence minister must be signed off by the House of Representatives and looks unlikely to succeed. After has the support of some 40 members but the majority are not seen as sympathetic to him.
The HoR may also demur because it thinks there are too many ministers. It demanded that Thinni cut down the size of his original cabinet pick from 18 to 11 and appoint ministers not previously in politics. Thinni himself nominally also took the defence brief, a job which he had held during Ali Zeidan’s premiership. The portfolio has actually been looked after by Masoud Erhuma one of the quasi-ministers known as department heads.
Parliament in the end allowed Thinni to have 13 ministers. However, Hafter’s appointment might be rejected simply on the numbers’ principle rather because of the animus that politicians have against the general.
Among some in Benghazi, Hafter is seen as a liberator and is highly popular. In various city districts, fireworks were being let off this evening to celebrate his potential new role. Drivers were also honking the horns of often stationary cars, as there has been hardly any petrol for the last three days. There were few takers for the normal cavalcades of enthusiastic supporters.
In reality, Benghazi still remains to be cleared completely of Ansar fighters and their allies. Their old stronghold at Buatni is now almost completely in government hands. Civic society members went on a tour of the former Ansar camp today. The widely-disseminated story that 40 heads had been found by the Special Forces that took the camp has now been discredited.
There remain some fighters in the port area, though a source insisted to the Libya Herald that these men could no longer be rearmed and provisioned by sea. Fierce fighting continues in Leithi where it is reported that one of the principal roads, Elhegaz Street is now under government control. However, Hawari, Gwarsha and Gunfudah with its sea access remain Ansar bastions.
There was some confusion when news of Hafter’s selection was posted online. The picture that accompanied the statement showed the president of parliament, Ageela Salah with Hafter, alongside other HoR members, but Thinni was missing from the line-up. It is now being said that the photograph was taken two days ago at the meeting where the future of interior minister Omar Al-Sinki was debated, after his controversial anti-Hafter remarks in Paris. No photographers were allowed to take shots of today’s encounter. [/restrict]