TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya's interim government has proposed a draft law for electing an assembly to draft a new constitution – a first step to setting up a new government after the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi.
The draft, published Monday night on the website of the ruling National Transitional Council, would bar former members of Gadhafi's regime from running in the election. It would even ban anyone who got a degree based on academic research on the Green Book – Gadhafi's rambling political manifesto that laid out his theory of government and society declaring Libya a "republic of the masses."
Libya is facing serious challenges to build state institutions from scratch after toppling Gadhafi's 42-year dictatorship. The interim government must set rules for the transition to democracy and forge some sort of national reconciliation among the huge numbers of Libyans who were integral parts of former regime.
One of the most serious and immediate problems facing the interim leaders is disbanding disparate armed groups of former revolutionary fighters, which are divided by the regions where the operate. The regional militias, which played a major role in bringing Gadhafi down, are in charge of security in their areas in the absence of a strong and unified national military force. Clashes between the groups are frequent.
Fierce gunbattles between the militias of Tripoli and the city of Misrata erupted Tuesday in the center of the capital and left at least four fighters dead, said Tripoli's military council commander, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj.
The groups fought each other with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns. Col. Walid Shouaib, a member of Tripoli Military Council, said the clashes were triggered by arrest of a Misrata fighter on New Year's Eve by Tripoli fighters. He was suspected of robbery and the Misrata fighters were trying to free him.
The Tripoli council is affiliated with the national transitional government.
The head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, said the government must take control of the situation.
"I warn Libyans from entering into a civil war," he said.
A Misrata military council member, Mohammed al-Gressa, said he too feared a civil war. He said commanders of ex-rebels and the Tripoli military council were meeting.
"I am not optimistic because blood has been spilled," he told The Associated Press. "I feel this looks like a civil war."
According to Shouaib, the tensions between the two factions began on the night of the arrest when a group of Misrata fighters tried to free the detained man, but failed. Instead, they were arrested as well. A top Misrata commander managed to mediate the release of all the men except for the one arrested for robbery.
Another group of Misrata fighters made a second attempt to free the man on Tuesday. They opened fire on a building in the heart of Tripoli and used by the Tripoli military council. After hours of gunbattles, three of Misrata fighters and two from Tripoli armed men were killed, Shouaib said. However Belhaj said four were killed.
Witnesses said the Tripoli militia arrested six Misrata men, brought them inside the council building, beat them up and detained them.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed concern over the violence. "We want to see these issues resolved peacefully and resolved in a way that gives all Libyans confidence that they'll have a place in a future democratic Libya," she told reporters.
Pushing ahead with efforts to form a national army, Libya's interim rulers announced that Youssef Mangoush, once a special forces commander under Gadhafi, would become the new military's chief of staff. The Libyan military, still recruiting fighters and undergoing an overhaul, has yet to establish itself as a central authority on the ground.
Mangoush resigned from Gadhafi's military 10 years before the uprising in February. He joined with rebels in their quest to overthrow the longtime leader. During the fighting, he was detained in the eastern oil port city of Brega and taken to Tripoli, where he was held for four months until the opposition freed him and others when they overran the capital in August.
Despite the tenuous security situation, the interim government pushed ahead with plans for a transition to a new government.
The draft law sets out elections for a 200-member assembly, expected to be seated in June to write the new constitution. It is a first step toward the formation of a new government.
Libyans accused of rights abuses, corruption, business relations with Gadhafi's family members or regime officials would be prohibited from running in the elections if the law is passed.
The draft law allots 10 percent of seats for women and prohibits individuals with dual citizenship from running unless they revoke their non-Libyan nationality.
The law however does not lay out the guidelines for electoral constituencies and the electoral system in which candidates will run as individuals or on lists. There is also no law for political parties.
Critics believe that the criteria set to isolate former regime members from the political process are still vague, as judicial rulings are needed to decide who is guilty of corruption or human right abuses.
Veteran political opposition member Fayez Jibril pointed to a lack of a census, which is needed to decide how many representatives are needed for each constituency.
"This critical phase needs a political administration that is bold enough to take decisive positions," he said.
Michael reported from Cairo.