* Conflict with militant islamists
* Government failure to assert control
(Adds government statement, Algeria closes border, details)
By Ayman al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing
BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI, Libya, May 19 The commander of
Libyan army special forces said on Monday he had allied with
renegade general Khalifa Haftar in his campaign against militant
Islamists, highlighting the failure of central government in
Tripoli to assert its authority.
The announcement gives a major boost to a campaign by
Haftar, who has been denounced by the Tripoli government as
attempting to stage a coup in the oil producer.
It remains unclear how many troops support Haftar, whose
forces launched an attack on Islamist militants in Benghazi on
Friday in which more than 70 people died. Militiamen apparently
allied to Haftar also stormed parliament in Tripoli on Sunday.
The violence has compounded government's apparent weakness
in combating militias which helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011
but now defy state authority.
"We are with Haftar," Special Forces Commander Wanis
Bukhamada told Reuters in the eastern city of Benghazi. On live
television he had earlier announced his forces would join
"Operation Dignity", as Haftar calls his campaign.
The special forces are the best trained troops of Libya's
nascent army. They have been deployed since last year in
Benghazi to help stem a wave of car bombs and assassinations,
but struggled to curb the activities of heavily-armed Islamist
militias roaming the city.
An air base in Tobruk in Libya's far east also declared
alliance with Haftar's force to to fight "extremists".
"The Tobruk air force base will join ... the army under the
command of General Khalifa Qassim Haftar," the statement said.
Staff at the air base confirmed its authenticity.
UNCERTAINTY OVER PRIME MINISTER
Since the end of Gaddafi's one-man rule, the main rival
militias of ex-rebels have become powerbrokers in Libya's
political vacuum, carving out fiefdoms.
Compounding the anarchy, Libya's outgoing government
demanded parliament to go into recess after the forthcoming vote
on the 2014 budget until the next election later this year,
according to a statement issued after a cabinet meeting.
Haftar and other militias have demanded that a parliament,
paralyzed by infighting step down.
The government demanded that parliament repeat a vote on a
new prime minister. Business Ahmed Maiteeq was named as new
premier two weeks ago in a chaotic vote disputed by many
"This government submits a national initiative to the
General National Congress (GNC) to reach a national consensus
during this decisive phase," the statement of the cabinet of
outgoing premier Abdullah al-Thinni said.
Should the GNC fail to agree on a new premier then Thinni's
cabinet should stay, it said. There was no immediate reaction
from the GNC which is unlikely to give up power without a fight.
Haftar, once a Gaddafi ally who turned against him over a
1980s war in Chad, fueled rumours of a coup in February when he
appeared on television in uniform calling for a caretaker
government to end the crisis in Libya.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing;
Editing by Ralph Boulton)