Libya: Parliament overrun by militia, Tripoli denounces coup

Army of ex-rebel, Gen. Haftar, also attacks Benghazi, 80 victims

19 May, 10:41

    A convoy of tanks in front of Parliament in Tripoli on May 18, 2014 A convoy of tanks in front of Parliament in Tripoli on May 18, 2014

    (by Rossella Benevenia) (ANSAmed) - ROME - Tanks and shootouts were reported over the weekend as even the parliament building in Tripoli was overrun by a militia group. A building nearby was set on fire, several cars were damaged and lawmakers and parliament employees were forced to flee the building to avoid tanks and pickups driven by gunmen dressed as civilians.

    The situation in Tripoli degenerated on Sunday, when fighting moved from Cyrenaica - where between Friday and Saturday Benghazi was targeted by air raids carried out by troops under retired general Khalifa Haftar who is leading an offensive ''against terrorists'' with 80 victims reported and 140 others injured - to the seat of institutions led by a new premier for less than a fortnight. Ahmed Miitig was appointed to end chaos and anarchy but many, also among civilians, consider him to be too close to Islamic fundamentalists. So far, he has been unable to limit violence carried out by a number of heavily armed groups who are out of control.

    So far, it is unclear whether the violent attack on the General National Congress (GNC) is linked to the offensive led by Haftar in eastern Libya. But GNC President Nouri Abou Sahmein, the same man who on Saturday denounced a coup after air raids on Benghazi, blamed Haftar for the operation.

    Other sources explained that gunmen arrived driving tanks from a road connecting the capital to the airport and they left driving southwards along the same road, claiming they were powerful Zintan militia. These brigades are currently holding the son of late leader Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, and have always refused to hand him over to central authorities. They have also fought Islamic fundamentalists since the start of the 2011 uprising.

    In February, the group had sent the GNC, the highest authority in the country, an ultimatum to hand over power: they were slammed for attempting a coup and did not officially obtain anything. They subsequently did not follow on their threat to attack Tripoli en masse.

    A short while later, the transitional government announced a "compromise", without elaborating. Zintan brigades maintained their power intact and kept Saif al-Islam Gaddafi prisoner.

    Indeed the man, who is on trial in Tripoli with his father's top former aids including ex-intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, appeared in video conference from southern Libya during the trial's hearings.

    According to some observers, the possible connection between Zintan militias and retired general Khalifa Haftar could be the fight against Islamic fundamentalism which in Benghazi has its leading jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, which is listed by the US as a terrorist organization with likely links to al Qaida.

    The fight against al Qaida could be behind the support obtained by Haftar from parts of the army which provided aircraft, helicopters and heavy weapons in the east. An unspecified number of high officers and soldiers also claimed they were part of a ''Libyan national army'', embracing its slogan: ''We will not give up until we have reached our objectives'' which were defined as defending ''the people from terrorists''.

    Power is not the aim, they claimed, but rather ''responding to the population's calls'' after three years of war and a dire economic crisis with a blockade on oil terminals and exports, a major source of revenue for the country.

    After a day of violence and tensions in the North African country, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini expressed concern. ''Before the situation gets out of control and Libya enters an irreversible conflict, the international community, from the European Union to the UN, needs to mobilize all diplomatic tools so that a transition towards democracy is completed successfully with the involvement of all sides''.

    (ANSAmed).

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