Saturday, May 17, 2014

Libyan parliament stormed, at least 70 killed in fighting in Benghazi

Former Libyan army colonel Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi - 28 February 2014
Khalifa Haftar
Update Sunday: Heavily armed gunmen stormed Libya's parliament with anti-aircraft weapons on Sunday in an assault claimed by forces loyal to ex-general Khalifa Haftar, who has vowed to purge the country of Islamist militants.
In a confusing, chaotic attack, heavy smoke rose from the parliament building in Tripoli as gunmen clashed with guards. A Reuters reporter said the attackers raided and left, and other unknown gunmen later closed off nearby streets.
Another witness said attackers had kidnapped two people and heavy gunfire could be heard across other parts of Tripoli, where rival brigades of former rebels have often clashed since ending their 2011 war against Muammar Gaddafi.
A spokesman for the retired Libyan general Khalifa Haftar said his forces had carried out the assault as part of his campaign to rid Libya of Islamist militants. "These are members of the Libyan National Army," Mohamed al-Hejazi, spokesman for the group said, using the name of the irregular forces loyal to Haftar.
Haftar, a former rebel in the war against Gaddafi, had already sent his fighters into Benghazi on Friday against Islamist militants based there, claiming Libya's government had failed to halt violence in the eastern city. The BBC reported that at least 70 people were killed in those clashes, which involved some air force helicopters. (End of update). 
Khalifa Hafter stirred rumours of a coup in February after appearing in military uniform to call for a presidential committee to be formed to govern until new elections. The Tripoli government at the stime said he had no authority and threatened legal action against him.
Haftar's troops on Friday attacked the bases of the Islamist group Rafallah al-Sahati and another group known as February 17, Libyan military officials said. Mohammed al-Hegazi, a spokesman for Haftar, told Libyan television station Al-Ahrar that some military units joined Haftar and his forces in their fight against the armed groups.He said the operation, called the `"Dignity of Libya," included air forces and special forces. Al-Hegazi said Haftar's forces now controlled the two militia bases.
Major General Abdel-Salam Gadallah al-Obeidi, Libya's chief of staff, said forces that launched the Benghazi assault were under Haftar's control.However,he did not address claims that federal forces fought on Haftar's side, according to the Associated Press. Al-Obeidi later described the unfolding events as a "coup', the Associated Press reported.
Interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni later said only one jet moved out to attack the armed groups without government permission, along with some 120 weapons-loaded army vehicles. "This is an attempt to use the current security situation to stand against the revolution. ... The era of coup is gone,'' he said in a televised statement.

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