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2 years after Gadhafi, Libyan PM says he is 'swimming against the current' in chaos

Published: Sunday, Oct. 20 2013 12:10 p.m. MDT

In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 file photo, Libyan's Prime Minister Ali Zidan speaks to the media during a press conference in Rabat, Morocco.  (Abdeljalil Bounhar, Associated Press) In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 file photo, Libyan's Prime Minister Ali Zidan speaks to the media during a press conference in Rabat, Morocco. (Abdeljalil Bounhar, Associated Press)

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya's prime minister said Sunday he is "swimming against the current" in a country awash with militias and weapons as Libyans mark the second anniversary of the killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Ali Zidan spoke to journalists in Tripoli, more than a week after he was seized and briefly held captive by a mix of militiamen.

The incident highlighted how a nation that rebelled Gadhafi, a ruthless ruler who crushed opponents like Zidan and chased them into exile, fell hostage to unruly militias. The armed groups were originally born out of the rebel forces that fought Gadhafi's brigades during the eight-month civil war. However, the absence of a central police force and a national army left successive transitional governments with no option but rely on rebel forces to impose law and order.

Over the past two years, rebels grew from tens of thousands to nearly 200,000 militiamen, acting with impunity, and turning Libya's cities and districts to fiefdoms.

The government is "swimming against the current and this is very hard," Zidan said.

Simmering tensions in Libya were enflamed by an Oct. 5 raid by U.S. special forces that snatched a Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of Tripoli and whisked him off to custody in a U.S. warship. Islamists accused Zidan of facilitating the abduction of al-Libi, something Zidan repeatedly denied. The incident was seen as the motive behind Zidan's abduction.

But even the government itself is at odds. Speaking to journalists Sunday, Zidan identified lawmakers Mohammed al-Kilani and Mustafa al-Teriki as being the ones who plotted his abduction. The two lawmakers, belonging to Libya's hard-line Islamist bloc in parliament, later spoke journalists, with one saying Zidan was a "liar" who wanted to emerge from the crisis as a "hero."

Zidan also blamed "various parties" for hindering the establishment of an effective military and police force, naming only retired army officers as slowing down the process. He also said there are "people who want to hijack the state," in reference to the country's many militias.

In a statement carried by Libya's official LANA news agency, the Cabinet said the country is facing "mounting security challenges in the spread of weapons." This summer, armed militias besieged ministries to press parliament to pass a divisive law known as the Political Isolation law, which bans senior Gadhafi-era officials from politics.

"We are not a state like a normal one ... we are in middle of repercussions of a revolution," Zidan said, begging the Libyan people for patience. "We accepted the challenge not because we are brilliant politicians or have the magic want ... but we are ready to bear the challenges."

However, he acknowledged the limits the government has, saying: "What can we do? ... The situation is beyond the capability of anyone."

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