Libyan forces, Islamist militants clash in Benghazi

TRIPOLI Fri May 16, 2014 8:27am EDT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan irregular forces backed by helicopters and led by a retired army general clashed with Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi, killing at least two people, security and medical sources said on Friday.

Amid a broad decay of national law and order since the 2011 uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, Islamist militants have been blamed for a string of assassinations and bombings against the military in Benghazi, repeatedly fighting army special forces. But they have dug in at bases on the city outskirts.

Fighters led by retired General Khalifa Haftar had shelled bases belonging to Ansar al-Sharia and another Islamist militant group in Benghazi, said Mohamed Al-Hejazi, who said he was a spokesman for his self-declared Libyan National Army.

The situation was unclear, but witnesses said a regular army helicopter had been used in some of the assaults on the Islamist bases. Haftar was a leading figure in the anti-Gaddafi revolt.

With its own national army still in training, Libya's weak central government cannot control brigades of ex-rebels and militants who once fought Gaddafi but have since refused to disarm and often challenge the state. The North African nation's vital oil export industry has suffered badly in the disorder.

(Reporting by Feras Bosalum and Ahmed Elumami; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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