The firefight at the Libyan government headquarters demonstrates the country’s persistent insecurity.

After reclaiming control of Tarhouna city, Libya, on June 5, 2020, a fighter loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government carries confiscated weapons. Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters/File Photo

TRIPOLI, Aug 31 (Reuters) – Clashes erupted at a government building in central Tripoli on Tuesday after a dispute over the leadership of a state institution, its head said, underscoring the volatility and insecurity in Libya months before a planned election.

Pickup trucks carrying fighters rushed to the street where the Administrative Control Agency (ACA) is based, a Reuters witness said, amid the sound of gunfire and as black smoke rose overhead.

Sulaiman al-Shanti, the ACA’s head, stated the fighters were associated with his deputy. Both were appointed by separate political entities, and there have been recent disagreements regarding their respective positions.

Although open hostilities in the civil war ended last summer, armed factions continue to operate across Libya, fighting for territory and control of state institutions that, despite a peace effort, remain divided.

Libya has had little security since the NATO-backed rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and the country has been divided since 2014 between warring eastern and western factions.

Moves towards a peace process last year were accelerated after forces of the eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar were pushed back from an assault on Tripoli, culminating in the appointment of a unity government in March.

However, although both sides publicly backed the new unity government and agreed a ceasefire, there has been little progress in unifying state institutions or preparing for a fair and free election amid accusations of obstruction.

Under the United Nations-backed process that established an interim unity government this year, an election is scheduled for December 24.

The March-installed Government of National Unity (GNU) has complained of obstruction by the parliament, which was elected in 2014 and then split between the warring factions.

The ACA, which is tasked with overseeing government performance, has the authority to reject appointments to public positions, giving it a powerful tool in disputes over control of other state organisations.

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