Libyan government warns of new militia threat in capital

Thu May 22, 2014 2:00pm EDT

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By Ahmed Elumami and Feras Bosalum

TRIPOLI, May 22 (Reuters) - Libya's government accused parliament on Thursday of putting security in the capital at risk by summoning a militia from the west of the country to protect the assembly.

Parliamentary speaker Nuri Abu Sahmain invited the Central Shield militia to come to Tripoli after gunmen stormed the legislature on Sunday in an attack claimed by renegade general Khalifa Haftar.

"The government has noticed ... the entry of a... force which does not belong to the government, the Central Shield," Culture Minister Habib Lamin told reporters.

"This threatens the security of residents in Tripoli," he said. "We have a critical and dangerous situation."

Torn between rival militias since the toppling of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya also faces a deepening split between the government and the parliament, or General National Congress.

The GNC is itself divided between Islamist and more moderate forces, as well along regional and tribal fault lines, paralysing decision-making and legislation. It has not yet approved a budget or confirmed the cabinet of new prime minister Ahmed Maiteeq, who was appointed after a chaotic vote disputed by many lawmakers.

Haftar said Sunday's attack on parliament was part of a campaign to purge Libya of Islamists. Two days earlier, his troops attacked militants in Benghazi in the worst clashes in the eastern city for months, killing more than 70 people.

Clashes broke also out in Tripoli this week after Libya's air defence commander joined Haftar.

Western powers fear the general's campaign will split the Libyan army, further destabilizing the oil-producing North African country, after several units defected to him in recent days.

The Central Shield militia requested by Abu Sahmain comes from the western city of Misrata, which has strong Islamist links.

Several government ministers, speaking on live television, accused the GNC of ignoring a recent government initiative calling for a freeze of parliament until the next elections - to defuse a political crisis. The congress had ignored a proposal to hold parliamentary elections at the end of June, Lamin said. (Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Feras Bosalum; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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