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Tags: Libya | general

Clashes Erupt in Libyan Capital as Rogue General Gains Support

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 03:51 PM EDT

Explosions and fighting erupted in Libya's capital on Wednesday, killing at least two people after the top air defense commander signaled support for a renegade general who is campaigning to dissolve parliament and wipe out Islamists.

It was not immediately clear who started the clashes, but government figures and Islamist groups in parliament, some of them with allied militias, have become increasingly alarmed by signs of growing support for Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Forces loyal to him stormed parliament on Sunday.

Western powers fear Haftar's call for army units to join his campaign will split the military and trigger more turmoil in Libya, as the oil-rich North African nation struggles to restore order three years after the fall of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Tripoli residents reported several loud explosions early on Wednesday near the al-Yarmouk air force barracks after air defense top commander Juma al-Abani released a video message saying he was joining "Operation Dignity," Haftar's campaign against Islamists.

Heavy fighting involving anti-aircraft machine guns mounted on trucks also broke out overnight near an army camp in Tajoura, an eastern suburb, witnesses said. The city was quiet by dawn.

Libya has been plunged into turmoil since its 2011 uprising ended Gadhafi's dictatorship.

Many have grown frustrated with the government's failure to contain Islamist fighters and other militias that fought in rebellion and since openly defied the authorities to demand more oil wealth and power.

Haftar, a former Gadhafi ally who split with the autocrat in the 1980s, is the latest player to emerge in Libya's network of former fighters vying for control over parts of the country.

Culture Minister Habib Lamin, who has acted as Cabinet spokesman, told Reuters some deputies had asked the government to arm the Islamist militant group Ansar Sharia to confront Haftar.

"The government rejected this," he said and, underlining tensions between government and parliament, accused deputies of adding to the chaos by approving militia funding in the past.

The parliament is split between Islamist parties loosely allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, the anti-Islamist National Forces Alliance, and scores of independents and tribal leaders of varying allegiances.

Western governments are concerned Libya's instability may worsen and spill over into its North African neighbors, still emerging from the political unrest following the 2011 "Arab Spring" revolts.


© 2022 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Libya, general
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 03:51 PM
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