* 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 from minister, from oil protests, and context)
By Ahmed Elumami and Ulf Laessing
TRIPOLI, May 18 Heavily armed gunmen stormed
Libya's parliament on Sunday demanding its suspension and
claiming loyalty to a renegade army general who has vowed to
purge the country of Islamist militants.
Smoke rose over parliament after gunmen attacked and then
withdrew, and 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.
Any alliance of militias lining up against Islamist groups
threatens to deepen chaos in the OPEC oil producer where a
fragile government already struggles to gain legitimacy and
impose authority over brigades of former fighters.
"We announce the freezing of the GNC," said Colonel Mukhtar
Fernana, a former military police officer from the Zintan
region, reading out a statement on al-Ahrar TV.
Haftar's spokesman Mohamed al-Hejazi said Fernana's group
was allied to the former general.
Fernana said their movement was not a coup, but said the
parliament had 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.
Justice Minister Saleh al-Mergani condemned the assault on
parliament and rejected the group's demands.
"The government demands an immediate stop to military action
and use of force to express political opinion," he told a news
conference calling for dialogue.
Witnesses said armed local residents were blocking roads to
the parliament building after the attack, but their identities
and affiliation were not clear.
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 of a coup in February when he
appeared on television in uniform calling for a caretaker
government to end Libya's crisis.
Since the end of Gaddafi's one-man rule, 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 are rivals -
the Zintans and the Misratans - loosely allied with competing
political factions battling to define what kind of state Libya
should become three years after Gaddafi's fall.
Compounding the chaos, another former rebel commander,
Ibrahim Jathran, who occupied eastern oil ports last summer,
said he supported suspending parliament and handing over
legislative power to the constitutional-drafting body.
His protest to demand more federal autonomy and a greater
share of oil wealth for his eastern region has helped cut
Libya's crude output to around 200,000 barrels per day from 1.4
million bpd before the summer.
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.
On Saturday, parliamentary speaker and military
commander-in-chief Nuri Abu Sahmain accused Haftar of trying to
stage a coup. Several reports said Sahmain had been kidnapped
after Sunday's attack, but he denied that.
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.
In 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.
Clashes broke out in two areas of Benghazi on Sunday night
between Haftar's forces and Islamist militants, and unknown
attackers fired Grad rockets at the city's airport, a security
source said. There was no immediate report of casualties.
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.
The parliament has been paralyzed by rivalries between the
Islamists tied to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and a nationalist
movement, leaving many Libyans frustrated over lack of progress
since the war.
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.
(Additional reporting by reporting Feras Bosalum; Writing by
Patrick Markey; Editing by Rosalind Russell, Bernard Orr and