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Libyan minister quits after shrine demolitions

Libya's Interior Minister Fawzi Abdul A'al has tendered his resignation after the country's newly elected National Congress accused his forces of lax handling of Islamist hardliners who partly demolished Sufi shrines.

Libya’s interior minister resigned on Sunday after he was criticised for failing to halt a surge of attacks on Sufi Muslim shrines.

There have been a series of attacks by well armed, ultraconservative Muslim groups against religious shrines across the country. They bulldozed sites sacred to Sufi Muslims in the western city of Zlitan on Friday and in the capital, Tripoli on Saturday.

Libyan police surrounded the men as they levelled the large Sha’ab mosque in broad daylight in the centre of Tripoli, but did not move in to stop them.

Similar attacks on shrines and a library have taken place over the past months in other cities and at least twice before in Tripoli. Sufis, are a mystical, Muslim order whose members often pray over the tombs of saints and ask for blessings or intervention to bring them success.

Hard-line Salafi Muslims consider worshipping over graves to be idolatry and armed groups across the region have targeted Sufi sites in Egypt, Mali and other parts of Libya over the past year.

Emergency meeting

At an emergency, closed-door meeting on Sunday, members of congress criticised the security forces and particularly the interior ministry for not doing enough to protect the sites.

“Where was the defence ministry? Where was the interior ministry and security forces? You are supposed to be our protectors,” Akram al-Genin, a representative from the city of al-Khoms, told the assembly.

A ministry spokesman said that “Fawzi Abdel A’al submitted his resignation in protest against the unacceptable words from the National Congress.”

Security problems

Both the country's highest cleric and members of Libya's newly elected parliament blamed the Interior Ministry for a general deterioration of security in the country.

Libya has many weapons in civilian hands following last year's civil war. The country has largely relied on security from militias made up of citizens and former security officials who once battled Gadhafi's forces.

Late Sunday, a government spokesman said that 17 people had been arrested in connection with the desecration of Sufi shrines.

ipj/jm (Reuters, AP)

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