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Militias stream into Libyan capital
May 23, 2014
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TRIPOLI: Militias on Thursday streamed into the Libyan capital amid a standoff with fighters loyal to a renegade general whose offensive has won support from officials, diplomats and army units, but has also threatened to fragment the country further.

The militias, known as Libya Central Shield, are composed of groups from the western city of Misrata.

They are under the command of the country’s chief of staff, who answers to parliament.

The legislature has described the campaign by rogue general Khalifa Hifter as a coup.

Witnesses in Tripoli said they saw Misrata militiamen take positions early on Thursday in army barracks in the city’s south, near the airport highway.

The residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their own safety.

The parliament - challenged by its own government, which is pressing for a suspension of the house’s sessions until new elections - has called in the forces to face off pro-Hifter militias in the capital.

No fighting was reported on Thursday but dozens of people have been killed since Hifter’s offensive began last Friday, first in the eastern city of Benghazi and then, two days later, with the storming and ransacking of parliament by militias allied to Hifter, who declared the body suspended.

On Wednesday, Hifter called for the formation of a Presidential Council to take over from parliament, oversee elections and hand power after a nationwide vote to a new legislature.

Claiming to speak in the name of the army, Hiftar urged the country’s highest judicial authority “to form a civilian presidential high council tasked with forming an emergency cabinet and organising legislative elections.”

“Libya has become a hub for terrorists who control power,” said Haftar.

Speaking from the eastern town of Al Abyar, he said the presidential council he envisions would hand over power to an elected parliament.

Oil-rich Libya has called an election for June to replace its disputed interim parliament, the General National Council (GNC), and try to resolve the power struggle, but violence among militias threatens to scupper the vote.

The electoral commission said the election for the GNC would be on June 25.

While some observers doubt it will take place, one Western diplomat told reporters that the vote could indeed go ahead.

“The electoral commission has the logistical and human resources needed to organise the elections on schedule,” the diplomat said.

Highlighting the seriousness of the security threat, the navy’s chief of staff, Rear Admiral Hassan Abu Shnak, his driver and two guards were wounded Wednesday when gunmen attacked his convoy in Tripoli.

Hifter has also been winning support from several prominent government officials and military units for his campaign against militiaswhom he accuses of tearing the country apart and orchestrating militant attacks with the support of Libya’s hardliners’dominated parliament.

His supporters include an elite special forces unit of the regular army in Benghazi, who have suffered mounting losses in suspected extremist attacks in the eastern city where Islamists are well entrenched.

Police brigades, officers at Tobruk air base and the powerful Al Baraassa tribe from the east have also declared support for Haftar.


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