Nearly 100 Libyan fighters backed by artillery kept the national assembly under siege yesterday in protest at the new prime minister's cabinet line-up and alleged links of some ministers to Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
The protest, which erupted on Wednesday night, has drawn dozens of former rebels from Tripoli and other cities, some of them formally affiliated with the defence and interior ministries.
"What is happening and the scale of what is going on is very grave," said Othman Ben Sassi, an official linked to the national assembly, which was not in session yesterday. He said ex-rebels were occupying the assembly and other official buildings.
Traffic leading to the assembly and the luxury Rixos hotel was blocked by a dozen 4x4 vehicles and pick-up trucks mounted with artillery, a witness said.
"We are demonstrating against the national assembly and its chosen government because it is made up of remnants of Muammar Gaddafi's regime," said Abdel Jalil Maziq, 42. "The world helped us overthrow the tyrant and now here we are stuck with remnants of his regime."
The complaints centred on the 30-member cabinet presented by prime minister designate Ali Zeidan, approved by the assembly on Wednesday in a session cut short by the protests and mounting security concerns.
Nine ministries were said to be in dispute, including the strategic oil portfolio.
Gunmen were also present at the Rixos, streaming in casually and passing pistols through the metal detectors. Some of them said they had come to negotiate and submit their demands. "There are about 20 revolutionaries meeting with the prime minister to discuss their objections," said Colonel Jumaa al-Meshri of a Tripoli-based brigade.
The assembly approved the cabinet weeks after rejecting that of the prime minister designate's predecessor. Zeidan and his cabinet have yet to be sworn in.