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By Feras Bosalum and Ulf Laessing
TRIPOLI May 19 A Libyan air force base in the
eastern city of Tobruk said on Monday it was allying itself with
a renegade general who has promised to purge the country of
A statement from the air base said its personnel wanted to
fight what it called extremists, echoing the rhetoric of General
"The Torbuk 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.
Heavily-armed gunmen apparently loyal to Haftar had stormed
parliament on Sunday demanding it be suspended and power handed
over to a 60-member body that is rewriting Libya's constitution.
The Tobruk air base development was significant as it was
not clear how much backing Haftar's men had within Libya's
nascent regular armed forces and the powerful brigades of former
rebels who had toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Any alliance of militias lining up against Islamist groups
threatens to deepen chaos in the OPEC oil producer, whose
fragile government is struggling to gain legitimacy and
impose its authority.
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.
His forces attacked militants in the eastern city of
Benghazi on Friday. More than 70 people were killed.
Tripoli was quiet on Monday with most people staying indoors
after fighting raged across the capital on Sunday. Two people
were killed in that violence.
The international airport was open though some flights were
cancelled as travellers could not easily reach it. But
authorities extended the closure of Benghazi airport for another
week because of the unrest, the airport director said. It was
attacked with rockets overnight.
Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Tripoli and evacuated its
diplomatic staff due to security reasons on Monday.
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 and flexing their
military muscle to make demands on the state.
(Reporting by Feras Bosalum and Ulf Laessing, Editing by Angus