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The Libyan Parliament’s abrupt dismissal last week of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan takes Libya another step closer to even greater confusion and instability. With an oil-starved central government also drifting closer to bankruptcy, Libya’s options going forward have become more daunting. If the international community continues to focus elsewhere in the region while Libya merits high-level diplomatic attention, the prospects for finding a way to halt Libya’s decline will worsen.

The latest disruptive snit was triggered by the escape last week of a North Korean-linked tanker from the federalist rebel-controlled eastern Libyan oil terminal of Es-Sider with a cargo of unauthorized crude. Zeidan ordered the government’s puny navy to intercept it and bring it to a government-controlled port. The tanker was hit by Libyan naval gunfire, but eventually escaped amidst poor weather.

Eastern rebels claimed the cargo had reached its destination on March 14, but a Libyan government official said it was still in the Mediterranean on the 15th. Finally, late yesterday, US Special Forces, acting on the request of the Libyan and Cypriot governments, seized the tanker (the “Morning Glory”) from the few armed rebels guarding it just south of Cyprus.

Earlier, however, an angry parliament (despite the government’s weak navy), chose to blame Zeidan, and voted him out of office on March 11 — ordering him to remain in Libya pending charges. On the 12th, Zeidan fled to Europe. Zeidan was replaced by temporary Prime Minster and Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, but only for two weeks while parliament, the General National Council (GNC), casts about for a more permanent figure. Al-Thinni had only been in his defense post since August 2013.

The tanker’s escape triggered such a flap because Tripoli has been trying to isolate and squeeze the shadow eastern government of former anti-Qadhafi rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran. Jathran has been facing rising discontent because the eastern government has been without enough cash to pay government officials, police, and even disaffected Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) workers stationed in the east and assisting in the terminal closures. If the illegally lifted crude had generated payments to new accounts established by Jathran & Co. instead of those of NOC in Tripoli, the funds would have reinforced Jathran’s position.

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