Libya in turmoil as violence sweeps across cities

Photo: Libya in turmoil as violence sweeps across cities / Arab World

Violence erupted across Libya overnight on Monday as rocket attacks targeted the Benina air base in Benghazi and private television channel Libya International, shortly after it had broadcasted a statement read out by a colonel who claimed to speak on behalf of the army, Al Arabiya reported.

"Rockets are being fired at the base, but so far it's not serious," air base commander Colonel Saad al-Werfalli told Agence France Presse, putting the blame on radical Islamists.

A journalist speaking to AFP said "at least four rockets struck [Libya International's] offices. There was material damage but no victims," said a journalist speaking on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Libya's justice minister said in a statement that two people were killed and 55 wounded in clashes between rival militia groups in southern Tripoli on Sunday,

"Unfortunately, the events led to two deaths and 55 wounded," Salah al-Marghani said, adding that the Tripoli violence had "no real link" to an offensive launched Friday by a rogue general against Islamists in the east of the country.

Earlier on Sunday, heavily armed gunmen stormed Libya's parliament demanding its suspension and claiming loyalty to the renegade army general who vowed to purge the country of Islamist militants.

Smoke rose over parliament after gunmen attacked and then withdrew, and gunfire erupted across Tripoli, where rival militias clashed in some of the worst violence in the city since the end the 2011 war against Muammar Qaddafi.

Details of who was involved Sunday's chaotic attack were unclear, but loyalists of retired General Khalifa Haftar said his forces and militia allies had planned the parliament assault in a campaign to rid Libya of Islamist hardliners.

Any alliance of militias lining up against Islamist groups threatens to deepen chaos in the OPEC oil producer where a fragile government already struggles to gain legitimacy and impose authority over brigades of former fighters.

"We announce the freezing of the GNC," said Colonel Mukhtar Fernana, a former military police officer from the Zintan region, reading out a statement on al-Ahrar TV.

Haftar's spokesman Mohamed al-Hejazi said Fernana's group was allied to the former general.

Fernana said their movement was not a coup, but said the parliament had no legitimacy and should hand over power to a 60-member body that was recently elected to rewrite Libya's constitution.

It was not immediately clear how much backing Haftar's men had within Libya's nascent regular armed forces and the country's powerful brigades of former rebels or whether the parliament was fully under government control after the attack.

Marghani condemned the assault on parliament and rejected the group's demands.

"The government demands an immediate stop to military action and use of force to express political opinion," he told a news conference calling for dialogue.

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