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Libya risks inter-region conflict as ex-PM leaves

In this Friday, March 7, 2014 photo made available on Tuesday, March 11 by the Warrior Affairs Commission, Libyan Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thinni addresses soldiers of the Libyan National Army training at an Italian military base in the town of Cassino, about 130 kilometers southeast of the capital Rome. (AP Photo/Warrior Affairs Commission, Stuart Price)

In this Friday, March 7, 2014 photo made available on Tuesday, March 11 by the Warrior Affairs Commission, Libyan Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thinni addresses soldiers of the Libyan National Army training at an Italian military base in the town of Cassino, about 130 kilometers southeast of the capital Rome. (AP Photo/Warrior Affairs Commission, Stuart Price)

TRIPOLI, Libya — The ousted prime minister fled Libya to Europe after parliament voted him out, leaving behind a country that risks being torn apart as the fault line between its eastern and western regions broke open Wednesday to a degree unseen since the 2011 civil war that ousted longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

A western-based militia fighting in the name of parliament has launched an offensive against an autonomy-minded militia in the east that has for months occupied most of Libya’s crucial oil facilities — seizing virtual control of the country’s most vital resource and almost sole source of cash. This past week, it succeeded in exporting a tanker of oil from a port it holds in defiance of the central government.

In response to the offensive other militias in the east are rallying to fight back. Eastern leaders have warned that unless Tripoli backs down they will seek outright independence for their region rather than greater autonomy.

The success by the Islamist-leaning parliament in voting out secular figure Ali Zidan as prime minister on Tuesday has sparked fears among their opponents of a power grab by the Islamists — tensions that also could translate into militia clashes. After the vote, Islamist-allied militias demanded rival militias leave the capital, Tripoli. Instead, some anti-Islamist militias beefed up their positions in the city with armored vehicles mounted with heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.

In a statement, Islamist parliament chief Nouri Abu Sahmein said parliament had agreed to give the eastern militia, known as the Cyrenaica Defense Force, two weeks to end its occupation of the oil facilities.

After his removal, Zidan left the country, despite a travel ban announced by the general prosecutor, who said he could face an investigation into corruption allegations.

His defense minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, was named interim prime minister, though he is seen by many Libyans as part of the failure to resolve the oil ports crisis.

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