* Benghazi forces lose base to Islamist forces, 30 killed
* Foreign diplomats flee chaos in Tripoli
* Fighting worst since the 2011 war against Gaddafi
(Adds kidnapping of lawmaker)
By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya, July 29 Militant fighters
overran a Libyan special forces base in the eastern city of
Benghazi on Tuesday after a battle involving rockets and
warplanes that killed at least 30 people.
A special forces officer said they had to abandon their main
camp in the southeast of Benghazi after coming under sustained
attack from a coalition of Islamist fighters and former rebel
militias in the city.
"We have withdrawn from the army base after heavy shelling,"
Saiqa Special Forces officer Fadel Al-Hassi told Reuters.
A separate special forces spokesman confirmed the militants
had taken over the camp after the troops pulled out. Part of the
area is Camp 36 in the Bu Attni district and the special forces
Intense fighting in Benghazi, Libya's second city, and
battles between rival militias in the capital Tripoli have
pushed the nation deeper into chaos after two weeks of the
fiercest violence since the civil war which ousted Muammar
Gaddafi in 2011.
Benghazi has been at the centre of fighting between special
forces and ex-rebel fighters of the Benghazi Shura Council who
have joined up with the Ansar al Sharia, a militant Islamist
group, residents said.
Ansar al Sharia, classified as a terrorist organisation by
Washington, has been blamed by authorities for attacking the
U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 when the U.S. ambassador was
Special forces and some regular air force units had recently
joined forces with a renegade former army general, Khalifa
Haftar, who had launched a self-declared campaign to clear the
city of Islamist militants.
A government MiG warplane crashed during Tuesday's fighting
in Benghazi. A Reuters reporter saw the pilot parachuting to
ground after hearing an explosion.
Since clashes erupted two weeks ago, foreign states followed
the United States and the United Nations in pulling diplomats
out of the North African oil-producing state. Fighting in
Tripoli between two rival brigades of former anti-Gaddafi rebels
closed the capital's international airport.
A rocket hit a fuel depot near Tripoli airport two days ago,
igniting a huge blaze that fire-fighters were still trying to
put out. Italy's government and Italian oil group ENI
had agreed to help them, the government said.
A member of the new Libyan parliament Mustafa Abushagor, due
to take office in August, was kidnapped in Tripoli on Tuesday by
unknown assailants, the state news agency LANA reported, citing
MILITIAS FIGHT FOR UPPER HAND
Three years after Gaddafi's fall, the OPEC nation has failed
to control ex-rebel militias who refuse to disband and who are
threatening the unity of the country. The extent of recent
hostilities has increased Western worries that Libya is sliding
towards becoming a failed state and may once again go to war.
Despite the violence, Libya's oil production remained at
around 500,000 barrels per day, and its oilfields are secure,
Samir Salim Kamal, director of planning at the oil ministry told
Reuters on Tuesday.
That was an increase from earlier this year when unrest
pushed output as low as about 200,000 bpd, but it remains well
below the usual 1.4 million bpd.
While the tribal way of life declined as growing oil wealth
attracted Libyans to towns and cities, traditional power
structures remain strong in the nation of about six million
Gaddafi's strategy effectively amounted to a system of
divide and rule, buying off established tribal leaders.
In Egypt, the army has proved to be the supreme political
force but in the post-Gaddafi era the Libyan militias are
fighting for power, influence and oil wealth.
Tripoli was quieter on Tuesday than over the last fortnight
during which the two brigades of former rebels, mainly from the
towns of Zintan and Misrata, have pounded each other's positions
with Grad rockets, artillery fire and cannons, turning the south
of the capital into a battlefield.
Nearly 200 people have died in Tripoli and Benghazi during
the clashes in the two cities, according to the health ministry
and local medical officials.
FUEL TANKS ABLAZE
A spokesman for the National Oil Corporation said on Tuesday
the armed factions in Tripoli had agreed to a brief cease-fire
to allow emergency services to fight the blazing fuel storage
tanks containing millions of litres of fuel.
The tanks are operated by Brega oil company, which is owned
by NOC, and store oil for consumption in Libya.
Black smoke billowed from one of the tanks hit by a rocket
on Sunday near the airport road. The highway and surrounding
areas were empty after homes in the area were evacuated, except
for occasional militia roadblocks.
Fire-fighters were spraying the area with water to cool down
storage depots near the fuel tank that was set ablaze to try to
extinguish the inferno.
The United States, whose embassy is near the contested
airport, evacuated its embassy staff in Tripoli on Saturday,
driving diplomats across the border into Tunisia under heavy
military guard including air support from warplanes.
Britain, other European governments, Turkey and the
Philippines have also pulled out diplomatic staff or left just a
few representatives behind in Tripoli, where the violence is
also causing fuel and power shortages.
France and Spain on Tuesday were evacuating more nationals
and some diplomats from Tripoli, according to LANA. Canada is
temporarily pulling out its diplomats due to fears about their
safety, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Ahmed Elumami and
Feras Bosalum in Benghazi; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by
Peter Millership and David Stamp)