Libya's interim ruling council has fired the nation's cabinet just five months after it took office, citing incompetence, two senior officials say, just two months before the country's first national election.
National Transitional Council official Fathi Baja told The Associated Press on Thursday that 65 of the NTC's 72-members approved a non-confidence motion against Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib in a meeting Wednesday.
It's the latest blow to Libya, struggling to reorganize after the overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The move throws into question the country's ability to hold the election in June, where Libyans are supposed to elect a 200-member assembly to form a government and prepare for writing the country's new constitution.
Another senior NTC official, Moussa al-Kouni, confirmed the vote and said the decision was not made public because of the council's failure to agree on a new cabinet.
The NTC is divided over who should be the next prime minister. Islamists support Mustafa Abu-Shakour, el-Keib's deputy. Others oppose appointing a senior member of a cabinet they say has failed, suggesting Labour Minister Mustafa al-Rajbani instead.
El-Keib assumed his post in November, after an eight-month civil war that ended with the capture and killing of Gadhafi in October.
Libyan authorities in disarray
During his term, el-Keib and the NTC exchanged angry accusations over who was responsible for the failure to integrate revolutionaries into government forces, form a national army and disarm militias, as well as the alleged waste of billions of dollars on treating wounded Libyan fighters abroad.
Most recently, scores of Libyans have been killed in ethnic and tribal strife in southern cities of Kufra and Sabha, with little intervention from Libyan authorities.
On Thursday, six prisoners and guards were killed in an exchange of gunfire in the eastern city of Benghazi, when a group of inmates tried to break out of the al-Kawifiya prison, witnesses said.
Baja said the decision to dismiss the cabinet came after a stormy meeting between el-Keib and six of his ministers with top NTC members.
"El-Keib was very angry, and he wouldn't listen to our complaints," Baja said, adding that he left the meeting in protest at the inaction of NTC leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, who "ordered us not to talk and remain silent."
Abdul-Jalil, according to Baja and al-Kouni, stayed away from Wednesday's meeting, which ended with dismissal of the cabinet.
"The NTC itself has a big problem; it is paralyzed and he [Abdul-Jalil)] doesn't want to take responsibility," Baja said.
On Wednesday, el-Keib harshly criticized the NTC in remarks carried by the state-run TV, accusing the council's members of hindering his government's work and delaying elections.
"These remarks came as a surprise to us," al-Kouni said. "His government has failed, but he wants to act like a hero."