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Libya Still Hampered By Violence And Political Unrest

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now to Libya, where a string of assassinations this weekend in Benghazi left more than 10 people dead, including the former Air Force chief and two teenage activists. The political landscape in today's Libya is also chaotic - militias, an embattled parliament and a second government that claims authority. Mary Fitzgerald is just one of a handful of journalists working there. She's a foreign affairs correspondent with The Irish Times. She says there is an information vacuum in the country and few people both inside and outside the country have a good grasp of what's going on.

MARY FITZGERALD: Libya remains a very, very underreported story. And it's quite interesting actually to contrast that with all the interest in Libya in 2011. Interest in the Libyan story has really, really tapered off since then.

RATH: Let's talk about some of the specific headlines we've been hearing. We've been hearing reports that after intense fighting, the government forces have lost control of the country's main airport in Tripoli. How is it that the government lost control of the airport?

FITZGERALD: Well, you could argue that the government never really had control of Tripoli International Airport. You could argue, in fact, that the government in Libya has very little control of anything. Because real power here in Libya, as many Libyans now suspect, is in the constellation of militias that emerged during and after the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

RATH: So how much is the central government function in government - how much does it actually control?

FITZGERALD: Well, right now there is the question of which government, because we have two entities here in Libya that both claim that they are the legitimate government.

In the eastern city of Tobruk, we have a parliament that was elected in national elections in June. And then in Tripoli, we have a so-called government, which was basically formed last month after the airport changed hands by a failed former prime ministerial candidate, who was asked by the Tobruk parliament's predecessor, the national congress, to form what they called a national salvation government. So now we have a situation where two bodies - claiming to be the legitimate government of Libya.

RATH: Can you clarify for us with all of these factions and even different countries at play here, is this fighting about religious ideology or is it about the country's resources?

FITZGERALD: The power struggle in Libya has very little to do with ideology. Yes, indeed elements on both sides, if we can speak of two sides in the power struggle in Libya right now, are driven by ideology. But they are minority elements.

The key struggle here is more to do with regional rivalries. It's more to do with the competition between old elites and the new elites that were created after the 2011 revolution. So this power struggle has all those elements combined.

RATH: Mary, we hear about the political turmoil and the fighting. Can you tell us though what daily life is like in Tripoli where you are?

FITZGERALD: There are large parts of the city where many residents have yet to return. But I have to say, too, that life is returning to the parts of the city more generally. More shops and businesses are opening. Cafes are open until late at night. Many of them are packed.

So there is a sense of Tripoli returning to what you could call its abnormal normal. There is a sense of uneasy calm here. People want to move on. But they're fearful that there may be further militia fighting. They're fearful of a possible counterattack by those militias that were driven from the city last month.

RATH: Mary Fitzgerald is the foreign affairs correspondent at The Irish Times based in Tripoli. Mary, thank you.

FITZGERALD: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.