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Libya’s rival prime minister hastily departed the capital, hours after his arrival in a bid to assert his claim to the premiership sparked clashes that threatened to tip the OPEC nation back into conflict.

Parliament-backed premier Fathi Bashagha and several members of his government were escorted out of Tripoli by one of his militia backers, local media reported Tuesday. They decided to leave to safeguard civilian lives after fighting broke out following his arrival overnight, Bashagha’s office said in a message to reporters. 

Bashagha’s presence in the city was a threat to the authority of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who was named prime minister in 2021 after a UN-backed deal ended years of conflict between rival governments in the North African country. Dbeibah says his mandate remains valid until elections, scheduled for last December but delayed amid legal disputes, are held.

The US Embassy said on Twitter that it was concerned by reports of armed clashes, urging restraint and calling on political leaders to “recognize that seizing or retaining power through violence will only hurt the people of Libya.”

It also called on Libyan officials currently meeting in Cairo to discuss a constitution to recognize that “the continued lack of a constitutional basis leading to presidential and parliamentary elections in a realistic but aggressive timeframe is depriving Libyans of the stability and prosperity they deserve.”

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