Turmoil spreads across Libya as air base joins renegade general’s forces

Fears of further confrontations rise after deaths of about 80 over weekend

In this image made from video provided by the Libyan national army via AP Television, vehicles with heavy artillery of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building after troops of Gen. Khalifa Hifter targeted Islamist lawmakers. Photograph: AP

In this image made from video provided by the Libyan national army via AP Television, vehicles with heavy artillery of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building after troops of Gen. Khalifa Hifter targeted Islamist lawmakers. Photograph: AP

 

Libya’s fragile government faced a spreading armed rebellion yesterday when an air force base in the east joined up with a renegade former general who is pledged to fighting Islamist militants.

Fears of a confrontation between rival groups mounted when the commander of the Tobruk air base announced he was putting it under the command of Khalifa Hiftar, a US-linked figure said to have been behind an attack on the parliament in Tripoli during weekend fighting that left about 80 people dead and 160 injured.

Most of the casualties were in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, where Gen Hiftar’s men attacked Ansar al-Sharia, a fundamentalist organisation that has been designated by the US as a terrorist group.

The former general, who defected to the US in the 1980s, took part in the Nato-backed uprising against former president Muammar Gadafy in 2011, but says the parliament lacks legitimacy. He has insisted he is not trying to overthrow the government but to fight terrorists.

Residents described Tripoli as tense but calm yesterday. However, Saudi Arabia said it was closing its embassy, Afriqiyah Airways cancelled its London to Tripoli flights, Tunisia and Algeria said they were sending reinforcements to their borders with Libya, Algeria recalled oil workers on security grounds and Turkey closed its consulate in Benghazi.


Armed groups
Libya has been in a state of turmoil for months, with armed groups compounding the problems of a government struggling to acquire legitimacy. A new constitution remains unwritten and Libya has had three prime ministers since March.

The gunmen who attacked the parliament belonged to brigades based in the Zintan area who are known for their opposition to Islamist groups.

Growing momentum for Gen Hiftar may be privately welcomed by the government, which yesterday asked parliament to suspend its work until the next general election. – (Guardian service)