Libyan rogue general wins allies, deepens struggle

2014-05-20 16:42

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Tripoli - Libya's rival armed groups took position on Tuesday for or against a renegade general's campaign to rid the country of jihadists as Islamist leaders in parliament vowed not to cede power.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which with its more radical Islamist allies forms the largest bloc in parliament, rejected calls for MPs to go into recess after approving a budget and holding a new vote of confidence in the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Miitig.

The General National Congress claims executive as well as legislative authority and has repeatedly accused general Khalifa Haftar, who led a deadly assault on Islamist militia in second city Benghazi last week, of attempting a coup.

But the former general has won widening support for his campaign, not only from militia groups but also from the special forces of the regular army in Benghazi.

Islamist militia in both Benghazi and the capital vowed to resist any move against them by Haftar's forces, whose militia allies already stormed parliament at the weekend, forcing the venue for Tuesday's meeting to be shifted to a Tripoli hotel.

The Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries - a powerful Islamist militia - vowed to defend the parliament by force if necessary.

In Benghazi, jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington, vowed to resist any renewed assault by Haftar's forces on its positions in the eastern city.

The group charged that Haftar, who spent more than two decades in exile in the United States, was leading "a war against... Islam orchestrated by the United States and its Arab allies".

Haftar's forces pulled out of Benghazi after the attack which left at least 79 people dead.

But he has vowed to re-enter Benghazi to cleanse it of "terrorists" and on Monday won the support of special forces in the city which stayed out of last week's fighting but have suffered mounting losses to suspected jihadist attacks in recent weeks.

"A confrontation is now inevitable to defend our city and our land," Ansar al-Sharia said in its statement.

"We will act with force against anyone who enters the city or attacks it."

Ansar al-Sharia has always rejected accusations that its militants were behind a September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that left ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.

But in January the US State Department put the group on its terror blacklist saying its fighters had taken part in the attack.

Showdown in parliament

The General National Congress was due to convene on Tuesday afternoon to debate the budget and the motion of confidence in Miitig's government, MP Suad Ganur told AFP.

She said both the agenda and the change of venue had been sent to MPs by text message late on Monday.

A first confidence vote earlier this month was marred by accusations of irregularities and the government has called on the GNC to repeat it, and then go into recess until a new legislature can be elected, something to which the Islamists are implacably opposed.

The Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Party for Justice and Construction, called on the premier to respect parliament and disown the plan.

Successive governments have complained that the GNC's claim to executive power has tied their hands in bringing to heel the former rebel militias that have carved out fiefdoms across the country since the Nato-backed uprising which ousted and killed long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The interim parliament sparked widespread public outrage earlier this year when it extended its own mandate until December.

Both sides in the standoff have heavily armed militia allies positioned around Tripoli, raising fears that it could rapidly degenerate into armed conflict with both sides claiming to represent the legitimate central government.

Saudi Arabia followed Algeria in closing its embassy although Washington said the US mission was continuing to operate normally.

There was also an exodus of foreign staff from Libya's vital oil sector with Algeria confirming it had repatriated some 50 employees of its state-run energy giant Sonatrach.

Read more on:    libya  |  north africa
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