Sunday, August 3, 2014
New Libyan parliament meets in Tobruk
Burning oil storage tanks in Truipoli. (Photo EPA)
Libya's new nationalist-dominated parliament held its first meeting Saturday, boycotted by Islamists. The parliament, elected June 25, is to take over from the interim General National Congress chosen in the wake of the 2011 NATO-backed revolution that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Ghaddafi. It was to have convened in Benghazi on Monday, but the meeting was brought forward and shifted to Tobruk for security reasons.
Benghazi and the capital, Tripoli, are the scene of regular fighting that has killed more than 200 people and wounded another 1,000 in the past two weeks. The growing insecurity has prompted thousands of people to flee, mostly overland to neighbouring Tunisia.Tripoli airport has stayed closed since gunmen, mostly Islamists, assaulted it on July 13 in a bid to take over control from the Zintan brigade of former rebels who have held it since 2011.
Fighting at the airport resumed in earnest Saturday after relative calm the previous day, with the sound of explosions and gunfire audible as far away as the city centre.A blaze at a fuel depot near the airport erupted last Sunday when a rocket hit a storage tank. A civil defence official on Saturday reported progress in putting out the fire engulfing three tanks and threatening more than 90 million litres of fuel, as well as natural gas stocks. But later a fourth tank was hit by a rocket and set ablaze, said Mohamed al-Hrari, spokesman for the National Oil Co. Benghazi, the scene of regular clashes between Islamists and forces backing a retired general who has launched a campaign against them, was relatively quiet Saturday.
During the meeting in Tobruk, presiding MP Abu Bakr Biira issued a call for reconciliation between rival factions, saying "we want to unite the homeland and put our differences to one side." He said Saturday's closed-door gathering was purely consultative and that a formal inaugural session would be held Monday, also in Tobruk. He claimed that 160 of the 180 members of the new parliament had made their way to Tobruk, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from the capital, near the Egyptian border. Outgoing GNC president Nouri Abou Sahamein also said the inaugural session would be held Monday, but he insisted the venue was Tripoli.