* Self-declared Libyan National Army takes on Islamists
* Parliament chief accuses general of staging a coup
* At least 75 killed in fighting; Benghazi airport closed
(Updates death toll)
By Ayman al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing
ABYAR/TRIPOLI, Libya, May 17 The self-declared
Libyan National Army led by a renegade general told civilians on
Saturday to leave parts of Benghazi before it launched a fresh
attack on Islamist militants, a day after dozens were killed in
the worst clashes in the city for months.
Families could be seen packing up and driving away from
western districts of the port city where Islamist militants and
LNA forces led by retired General Khalifa Haftar fought for
hours on Friday.
Dressed in military uniform, Hafter - whom the speaker of
parliament accused of plotting a coup - said his troops had
temporarily withdrawn from Benghazi for tactical reasons.
"We'll come back with force," he told reporters at a sports
club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi.
"We've started this battle and will continue it until we
have reached our goals," he said.
He said government and parliament had no legitimacy as they
had failed to achieve security. "The street and the Libyan
people are with us," he said, adding that his troops were spread
out in several parts of eastern Libya.
In Tripoli, parliamentary speaker and military
commander-in-chief Nuri Abu Sahmain said Hafter was trying to
stage a coup.
"(LNA) members who have carried out the clashes in Benghazi
are out of the control of the state of Libya and they are trying
to attempt a coup for their own interests," Abu Sahmain said in
a televised news conference.
A Health Ministry official said the death toll had risen to
43, with more than 100 wounded. Haftar said 60 militants and six
of his soldiers were killed, and 250 militants and 37 of his men
Libyan news website Ajwa Belad said late on Saturday 75
people had been killed and 141 wounded, citing official data.
A worker in a hospital that received at least 40 corpses
said: "More bodies are coming in from areas outside Benghazi."
Authorities extended the closure of Benghazi's Benina
airport on Saturday. Egyptair halted flights to Benghazi until
the security situation improved, an Egyptian security official
The Libyan army declared a no-fly zone after Haftar's forces
used at least one helicopter during Friday's fighting, according
to a statement on the chief of staff's website.
Since the 2011 civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi after
42 years of one-man rule, Libya has been unable to impose
authority over brigades of former rebels who refuse to disarm
and have carved out regional fiefdoms.
Benghazi, the cradle of the NATO-backed uprising against
Gaddafi, in particular has struggled to curb violence and stem
attacks blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group that
Washington designates as a terrorist organisation.
Haftar, a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that ousted
Gaddafi, stirred rumours of a coup in February by appearing in
military uniform to call for a presidential committee to be
formed to govern until new elections.
Libya's government is fragile and the parliament almost
paralysed by rivalries, with little progress to full democracy
made since 2011. A planned new constitution is still unwritten
and the country is on its third prime minister since March.
U.S. and European countries are helping build up the regular
army but Libya's armed forces and government cannot control the
brigades of ex-rebels and militants who once fought Gaddafi.
The North African nation's vital oil industry has suffered
badly and is often targeted by armed protesters seeking a
greater share of oil wealth, federalist power for the regions or
just better basic services.
Since last summer, armed protesters have repeatedly closed
down ports and oilfields, bringing production down to around
200,000 barrels per day from the 1.4 million bpd that the OPEC
member state produced before the protests erupted
(Reporting by Feras Bosalum, Ahmed Elumami and Ayman
al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing; Additional reporting by Shadia
Nasralla in Cairo; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Robin