Libya's High Council of State accused Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah of preventing its meeting on Monday, reviving political tensions in the country.
The High Council of State's accusations came after armored vehicles from an armed group commanded by Dbeibah's administration surrounded a major hotel in the capital Tripoli, preventing council members from entering, according to images broadcast by local media.
The council's head, Khalid al-Mishri, said in a video statement on Facebook that the body had been due to vote on a constitutional basis for elections.
Polls had been set for December 2021 to elect a replacement for Dbeibah's government but were indefinitely postponed.
Mishri said the hotel had canceled the reservation of a conference room, citing "government instructions."
He added that "no (other) hotel has agreed to rent us" a conference hall.
The meeting was also set to discuss "the unification of executive power," implying that it would cover the fate of Dbeibah's government.
Mishri said Monday's move was "the first time since the Feb. 17 revolution (of 2011) that a head of government has tried to prevent a sovereign institution from doing its work."
Dbeibah was appointed as part of a United Nations-guided peace process following the last major battle in Libya in 2020, but the eastern-based parliament and military strongman Khalifa Haftar say his mandate has expired.
The High Council of State (HCS) – a Tripoli-based body that is equivalent to a senate – rivals the House of Representatives (HoR), based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
Libya has for years been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by rogue militias and foreign governments. The Mediterranean nation has been in a state of upheaval since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
But a plan had emerged in the past two years that was meant to put the country on the path toward elections. A U.N.-brokered process installed an interim government in early 2021 to shepherd Libyans to elections that were due late last year.
That government, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, briefly unified the political factions under heavy international pressure. But the voting never took place, and since then, the plan has unraveled and left the country in crisis.
Lawmakers in Libya's east-based parliament, headed by influential speaker Saleh, argued that Dbeibah’s mandate ended when the interim government failed to hold elections.
They chose Fathi Bashagha, an influential former interior minister from the western city of Misrata, as the new prime minister. Their position gained the endorsement of putschist Gen.Khalifa Haftar whose forces control the country's east and most of the south, including major oil facilities.
Dbeibah has refused to step down, and factions allied with him in western Libya deeply oppose Haftar. They maintain that Dbeibah, who is also from Misrata with ties to its powerful militias, is working toward holding elections.