Libya relocates parliament after attack

2014-03-03 21:16
Protesters stand atop a vehicle in front of the National Conference Hall, in Tripoli, Libya. (Mohamed Ben Khalifa, AP)

Protesters stand atop a vehicle in front of the National Conference Hall, in Tripoli, Libya. (Mohamed Ben Khalifa, AP)

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Tripoli - Libya's parliament moved into a five-star Tripoli hotel on Monday, a day after rioters armed with knives and guns stormed the legislature building, torching furniture, killing a guard and wounding six lawmakers in the latest episode of turmoil in the country.

Tensions have been mounting between the country's biggest political blocs, each backed by militias, adding to the potential explosiveness of political disputes. Protesters demanded that parliament be disbanded immediately after its mandate ran out in January.

In Sunday's violence, dozens of protesters swept into the parliament chamber while it was in session, shooting guns, throwing bottles at lawmakers and setting fire to furniture. They took the seat of the parliament's president - the head of a main Islamist bloc - tied it to a lamppost outside and set it on fire.

One guard was killed while trying to protect workers trapped inside, security official Essam al-Naass said. Two lawmakers were shot in their legs, one was injured with broken glass and others were beaten up while trying to leave the premises.

Lawmaker Hussein al-Ansari told The Associated Press that the parliament will now hold its sessions in the five-star Waddan hotel in the capital's downtown.

Nearly three years after the spark of the Libyan revolution that ended the 42-year-rule of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, militias wield the real power in Libya. They have lined up behind the main political factions locked in a power struggle - with supporters of Western-backed Prime Minister Ali Zidan on one side and, on the other, Islamist factions in parliament trying to remove him.

Parliament's term expired on 7 February but lawmakers voted to extend it with plans to hold new elections in the spring. Since then, hundreds of protesters have held daily demonstrations demanding the legislative body be dissolved.

Parliament's president, Islamist-leaning Nouri Abu Sahmein, denounced Sunday's attack in a televised statement, saying it targeted "the headquarters of legitimacy." He warned against using young men after equipping them with weapons to carry "actions against legitimacy" without naming certain party or group.

He also demanded Tripoli militias to protect vital institutions and foreign embassies.

Some lawmakers said that the assault was triggered by an earlier attack on an anti-parliament sit-in a day earlier where unidentified assailants kidnapped two of the protesters for one day after setting fire to a tent, witnesses said.

Stomped car

Lawmaker Souad Sultan, from the non-Islamist grouping the National Forces Alliance, said the kidnapping "triggered the violent reaction, which might have been exploited by a certain party." She said she came under attack by the protesters who surrounded her car and stomped it with their feet and fists while trying to block the road in front of her."

A well-known movement called "No To Extension" which has staged protests against parliament for the past weeks distanced itself from the attack, with member Hisham al-Wandi telling Al-Nabaa TV network that they held the parliament responsible for lacking "a clear plan on transfer of power" after its mandate expired.

Tripoli resident and prominent lawyer Abdullah Banoun said that amid all the violence, Libyan citizens who don't carry arms need real protection.

"The parliament should not shut its ears to the demands of the people," he said, adding, "Now all cards are mixed in a way it is very hard to pin down who is doing what. And in the middle if of it all, we civilians, the unarmed ones, need real protection because our lives are endangered."

The attack on the parliament comes at a time killings and attacks mainly targeting foreigners, Christian migrants, pro-government militias and the nascent military have escalated in the eastern part of the country, especially in Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising.

The latest assassination came on Monday, when masked gunmen killed a pro-government militiaman after storming a cafe shop in Benghazi and opening fire him.

On Sunday, gunmen shot French engineer Patrice Real, who worked for a company contracted by a medical centre, as he drove in the city centre of Benghazi. Gunmen killed a Coptic Christian Egyptian in vegetable market on the same day.

Official news agency LANA said the engineer's company withdrew all its employees from Benghazi. It has been working there on medical centres since 2009, LANA said. It was not clear if the projects had been stopped.

Last month, seven Coptic Christian Egyptians were killed after masked men kidnapped them from their houses, tied their hands behind their back and shot them in the head and the chest.

Read more on:    libya  |  north africa

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