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U.N.-Backed Government Tries To Take Power In Libya


President Obama said this week that the worst mistake of his presidency was probably, quote, "failing to plan for the day after intervening in Libya." The U.S. was part of a military coalition that helped drive Moammar Gadhafi from power. The aftermath was a power vacuum that the Islamic State has exploited. Aidan Lewis of Reuters covers that country, and we have him on the line from Tripoli. Good morning.

AIDAN LEWIS: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, there are two competing governments in Libya and have been for a while. Neither is in control of the entire country. The U.N. is attempting to form a unity government and is trying to bring in a single leader. What's going on there?

LEWIS: That's right. The leadership of this U.N.-backed unity government arrived just under two weeks ago. And they've been stuck in Tunisia trying to gain more support both from politicians and from armed groups. But they've been struggling. And they decided to make a go of it and just get into Libya and see what happened basically. And their opponents in Tripoli tried to prevent them from flying in by closing the airspace. And in the end, they had to get a ship - a boat - from Tunisia. And they got in at a naval base in central Tripoli, from which they've been operating from ever since, trying to meet local officials to start making a plan for trying to govern a country, which, as you said, has been pretty chaotic since the fall of the Gadhafi five years ago.

MONTAGNE: What are things like for Libyans now after all these years of war and unrest and with falling oil prices, an economy that is doing poorly?

LEWIS: Yeah, well, Libya has a small population. It's just over 6 million people. And in the past, it's had quite high living standards compared to other countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Over the last five years, that's changed. And particularly in the last couple of years, the oil production has been cut, and the oil prices, obviously, have fallen. So the country's been facing real financial difficulties. Individuals are pretty cut off from international assistance, you know, still under sanctions. And there are severe cash shortages is in the banks and long lines forming from people who haven't been receiving salaries for some time. So there are worries. The health system, which used to be covered largely by foreign medical staff, a lot of whom who have left the country, is struggling as well.

MONTAGNE: So is it possible then to say, from what you've just described, that Libya is, at this point, a failed state?

LEWIS: It's failed politically, as the political situation is a total mess with these two governments and now a third competing for power. It's not a country that feels like it's at war. But it's finely balanced, and it's got a very, very tough security challenge ahead of it and, you know, an ongoing kind of low-burning conflict, which has yet to be resolved.

MONTAGNE: Aidan Lewis covers Libya for Reuters, and we reached him in Tripoli. Thank you very much.

LEWIS: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.