Islamist party office attacked as Libya violence surges

TRIPOLI Mon Jul 29, 2013 1:53pm EDT

1 of 3. People look at a vehicle belonging to the Libyan army after it exploded in Benghazi July 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Assailants attacked an Islamist party office in Tripoli and a soldier was killed in fighting in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi, officials said, in a wave of unrest since the killing of a political activist last week.

A car later exploded in central Benghazi but the blast was minor and no-one was hurt, a security official said.

The death of prominent Muslim Brotherhood critic Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, shot after leaving a Benghazi mosque on Friday, has triggered violent demonstrations and attacks on the movement's offices in Benghazi and Tripoli.

On Sunday, buildings used by the judiciary in Benghazi were bombed, followed by overnight clashes between an armed group and military special forces.

Violence and lawlessness, much of it involving former rebel groups, has hobbled governance in swathes of the North African oil producer since the war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Early on Monday an unidentified group attacked the headquarters in Tripoli of the al-Watan (Nation) political party, led by former Islamist militia leader Abdelhakim Belhadj.

"They smashed windows, shot at the door locks to open them and threw Molotov cocktails inside," Jamal Ashour, head of the party's political office, told Reuters.

"The damage is serious. No one was injured."

"COLLAPSE OF A WHOLE NATION"

Fighting erupted overnight in Benghazi's western Gwesha district, hours after Sunday's bombings, in which 43 people were wounded, according to state news agency LANA, citing the health minister. Demonstrators later took to the streets to denounce the violence and voice their discontent with the government.

"Clashes broke out between special forces and an unknown armed group," Mohammed al-Hijazy, a spokesman for Benghazi security operations, said by telephone. "At least one soldier was killed. The special forces have now retaken control."

Hijazy later said a military vehicle exploded in central Shajara Square. It was not immediately clear what had happened but residents said the blast was minor.

The cradle of the uprising against Gaddafi, Benghazi was also the scene of a mass jail break on Saturday.

"This escalation (of violence) will lead to a collapse of a whole nation. We need solidarity of the people," Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told reporters.

Facing increasing discontent over the state's inability to curb violence, Zeidan has said he will reorganize the government to cope with the "urgent" situation in Libya.

"People think the state is weak but the state does not even exist," he said. "Even if you brought the best politician from America or Europe, he will find himself helpless here."

In the jail break, 1,117 inmates escaped during a riot in Kuafiya prison on the outskirts of Benghazi. Officials said on Sunday that about 100 prisoners had been recaptured.

Violence has plagued Benghazi since last year, with attacks on security forces as well as foreign targets, including an assault on the U.S. mission in September in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Libya's national assembly selected Abdesalam Jadallah, a colonel in the special forces, as the new army chief of staff on Monday. A former frontline rebel commander during the 2011 war, Jadallah was picked after his predecessor resigned in June following deadly clashes in Benghazi.

(Additional reporting by Feras Bosalum; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Sonya Hepinstall)

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