* Chaotic attack on parliament, clashes in Tripoli
* Forces loyal to former general demand GNC hand over power
* Attack comes after clashes in eastern city Benghazi
(Adds details on deaths, context throughout)
By Ahmed Elumami and Ulf Laessing
TRIPOLI, May 18 Heavily armed gunmen loyal to a
renegade Libyan general stormed parliament on Sunday demanding
its suspension and a handover of power to purge the North
African country of Islamist militants.
Smoke rose over the General National Congress (GNC) after
gunmen attacked and kidnapped ten staffers before withdrawing.
Gunfire erupted across Tripoli, where rival militias clashed in
some of the worst violence in the city since the end the 2011
war against Muammar Gaddafi.
Details of who was involved Sunday's chaotic attack were
unclear, but loyalists of retired General Khalifa Haftar said
his forces and militia allies had planned the parliament assault
in a campaign to rid Libya of Islamist hardliners.
"We announce the freezing of the GNC," said Colonel Mukhtar
Fernana, a former military police officer from the Zintan
region, reading out on al-Ahrar TV a statement on behalf of
Haftar's self-declared Libyan National Army.
He said their movement was not a coup, but said the
parliament has no legitimacy and should hand over power to a
60-member body that was recently elected to rewrite Libya's
It was not immediately clear how much backing Haftar's men
had within Libya's nascent regular armed forces and the
country's powerful brigades of former rebels or whether the
parliament was fully under government control after the attack.
The attackers kidnapped about 10 employees from the GNC, an
official said. At least two people were killed and another 55
wounded in the violence, officials said.
Haftar, once a Gaddafi ally who turned against him over a
1980s war in Chad, fueled rumours a coup in February when he
appeared on television in uniform calling for a caretaker
government to end Libya's crisis.
Any alliance of militias challenging Islamist groups
threatens to deepen chaos in the OPEC oil producer where a
fragile government struggles to gain legitimacy and control
brigades of former fighters who refuse to disarm.
Since the end of Gaddafi's one-man rule, the main rival
militias of ex-rebels have become de-facto powerbrokers in the
vacuum of Libya's political chaos, carving out fiefdoms and
exercising their military muscle to make demands on the state.
But the most powerful, heavily armed brigades - the Zintans
and the Misratans - are loosely allied with competing political
factions determined to define what kind of state Libya should
become three years after Gaddafi's fall.
The central government made no official comment on Sunday's
attack, but Justice Minister Saleh al-Mergani called during a
news conference on all parties to lay down their weapons and
Witnesses said armed local residents were blocking roads to
the parliament building after the attack but their identities
and affiliation were not clear.
Gunfire and explosions could still be heard until late at
night on the airport road which is controlled by a brigade from
Zintan, a staunchly anti-Islamist force.
Libyan news websites said forces from Zintan had initially
stormed the parliament and then retreated to the airport road,
but there was no confirmation from Zintan or the anti-Islamist
Qaaqaa brigade about their involvement.
After Gaddafi, Libya's fragile democracy has hobbled from
crisis to crisis with the country on its third prime minister
since March, its new constitution unwritten and its parliament
caught up in constant infighting.
Libya's transitional parliament has been paralyzed by
rivalries between the Islamist tied to Egypt's Muslim
Brotherhood and a nationalist movement, leaving many Libya's
frustrated over lack of progress since the war.
Haftar had already sent his fighters into Benghazi on Friday
against Islamist militants based there, claiming Libya's
government had failed to halt violence in the eastern city.
At least 40 people were killed in those clashes, which
involved some air force helicopters.
Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising against Gaddafi,
authorities have struggled to curb violence and stem attacks
blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group that Washington
labels as a terrorist organisation.
Many former rebel fighters have been put on the government
payroll to provide security to ministries and offices, but they
often remain more loyal to commanders, political allies or their
regional tribes than the state.
Former rebel commanders and protesters have also taken over
key oil ports and pipelines, cutting Libya's oil output to
200,000 barrels per day from 1.4 million bpd to demand more
autonomy and a greater share of oil wealth.
(Additional reporting by reporting Feras Bosalum; Writing by
Patrick Markey; Editing by Rosalind Russell, Bernard Orr)