* Competing demands of different paramilitary groups
* Diplomats tend to play down risk of sudden violence (Adds declaration by
Tripoli, Benghazi fighters, paragraph 9)
By Alastair Macdonald
TRIPOLI, Nov 17 (Reuters) - A commander of Libyan former rebels has warned
that his men could overthrow the incoming government if it fails to meet
their demands for representation.
The credibility of the threat, made by Tripoli militia leader Abdullah Naker
in a Reuters interview, was hard to assess in a city where the balance of
forces, three months after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, is obscure and
Critics dismissed it as posturing. But it highlighted the tensions, and the
high stakes, on Thursday as Abdurrahim El-Keib, the U.S.-trained engineering
professor nominated as interim prime minister by the National Transitional
Council, tries to agree a cabinet line-up by a Tuesday deadline.
"We are still here on the ground and the final decision will be ours," said
Naker, speaking late on Wednesday at his base in the headquarters of a
state-owned construction company as some of the thousands of armed men he
says he has at his disposal prepared for night-time security patrols in the
Demanding Keib appoint ministers who would represent the young rebels who
ousted the old order, Naker, leader of the Tripoli Revolutionary Council
said his men would protest nationwide, peacefully "at first" if they did not
like the new cabinet, as they did against Gaddafi.
"If we find we have the same dictatorship, we will respond in the same way,"
he said, showing off video of his men firing Grad missiles and driving
Soviet-build T-72 tanks during the war. "It will not be an armed movement at
first, but it might develop into that. There's a strong possibility that it
NTC officials and fighters from other units played down the influence
wielded by Naker, an engineer from the mountain town of Zintan who vowed to
return to civilian life once democracy and security were assured.
But in a state with no police or army, forming a government to satisfy the
competing interests of tens of thousands of armed men is a fraught process.
On Thursday, Naker met a delegation of fighters from the eastern city of
Benghazi, seat of the revolt. They issued a joint declaration in Tripoli
demanding Keib meet their demands for a say in government and over a new
Outgoing prime minister Mahmoud Jibril has sounded an alarm about a "power
vacuum" that may be exploited by armed groups.
Western and Middle Eastern diplomats in the capital tend to play down the
risk of a sudden flare-up in violence - many of the armed former rebels are
simply keen to see a government installed that will allow them to return to
Many diplomats believe a competent cabinet will be formed next week, if not
necessarily within the deadline, by Keib, who has won admirers among Libyans
and foreigners for his apparent openness to compromise. But as Keib himself
has said, stable government will require bringing power into the hands of
new security forces and disarming militias.
"Political power is really now in the hands of the militias," said George
Joffe, a North Africa specialist at Cambridge University. "Keib ... is
having to listen to a million different factions all saying they want a
piece of the pie. Behind them stand the militias."
Keib has described Tuesday's deadline as a "soft constraint" - set at 30
days after the NTC declared all Libya "liberated" following Gaddafi's
killing - and says his priority is to bring in competent technocrats to run
the oil-rich state and organise elections by June to a constitutional
"The main thing is competence," he said last week, stressing the short
shelf-life of the new government.
Yet with few political parties to speak of after 42 years of dictatorship
but a host of local paramilitary units from across Libya staking claims to a
share of power by their presence in the capital, those involved acknowledge
that his cabinet must satisfy a complex balance of regional interests.
Among the trickiest tasks - notably in choosing ministers of defence and
interior - may be satisfying demands from cities like Misrata, Benghazi and
Zintan, which feel a keen sense of entitlement deriving from their roles in
the war on Gaddafi.
Keib must also handle potentially vigorous opposition to figures seen as too
close to the old regime, as well as rivalry between overtly secular leaders
and Islamists viewed by their opponents as overly indebted to foreign
backers, namely Qatar.
Though not alone in his objections, militia leader Naker placed particular
emphasis on rejecting any role in government for Abdul Hakim Belhadj, the
Islamist and former Taliban ally in Afghanistan whom the NTC named as
Tripoli military leader.
Belhadj himself dismisses suggestions that he and his ally, Qatar-based
cleric Ali al-Sallabi, are agents of the Gulf state which poured military
and humanitarian aid into the rebel camp, but their opponents remain
"We are really grateful to Qatar for what they did for the Libyan people,"
Naker said. But, describing the brand of Islam favoured by Belhadj as
unsuited to Libya's "moderate" religion, he added: "They have no right to
interfere in our affairs. We will not accept domination by Qatar or by
Figures close to the NTC - in the fluid environment of the change of
government, channels of information are unclear - said they expected Keib to
present a draft government list to the Council on Saturday or Sunday, though
this might include many alternative choices for different ministries.
Officials and foreign diplomats said Keib seemed to have succeeded in
keeping his preferences under wraps, while he faced lobbying from rival
groups, notably regional militias, particularly over key ministries like
defence and over the choice of a new chief-of-staff for the armed forces.
(Additional reporting by Taha Zargoun)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Nov 17 2011 - 18:11:13 EST