* Renewed clashes in Tripoli, two reported killed in capital
* Renegade army general gaining support for anti-Islamist
* Gunmen kill Chinese engineer in eastern city Benghazi
* New PM wants negotiations, inclusive cabinet
(Recasts with renegade general)
By Ayman al-Warfalli and Ahmed Elumami
ABYAR/TRIPOLI, Libya, May 21 A Libyan renegade
general called on the government to hand over power to the
country's top judges, mounting a challenge against Tripoli as
heavy fighting erupted in the capital on Wednesday.
Western powers fear a call by General Khalifa Haftar for
army units to join his campaign will split the nascent military
and trigger more turmoil in the oil producing country which is
struggling to restore order three years after the fall of
strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
The government is unable to control the militias who helped
oust Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed 2011 uprising but are now
"I call on the top judicial council to form a crisis
government to oversee the next elections," said the retired
general, dressed in uniform and surrounded by senior officers.
The council is independent and is one of the few state
bodies respected by normal Libyans tired of anarchy and
Haftar said government and parliament had lost any
legitimacy because they were unable to purge the OPEC producer
of extremists roaming around unchallenged.
His campaign got a boost after Libya's top air defence
commander declared suppport for his campaign which kicked off on
Friday with a strike against Ansar Sharia and other militant
groups in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Culture Minister Habib Amin also announced his backing, the
first government minister to join Haftar's forces. He said
parliament had failed to fight "terrorists", echoing Haftar's
"I don't recognize the (General National) Congress
(assembly) anymore," Amin told Reuters.
Tripoli residents reported several loud explosions early on
Wednesday near the al-Yarmouk air defence barracks after air
defence top commander Juma al-Abani released a video message
saying he was joining "Operation Dignity", Haftar's campaign
Heavy fighting involving anti-aircraft machine guns mounted
on trucks also broke out overnight near an army camp in Tajoura,
an eastern suburb, witnesses said. The city was quiet by dawn.
At least two people from Mali died in the fighting, a health
ministry source said.
Compounding the political chaos, state news agency LANA said
on Wednesday the interior ministry had also joined Haftar's
campaign, a report that was dismissed minutes later by the
acting interior minister.
Libya has been plunged into turmoil since its 2011 uprising
ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule.
Many Libyans have grown frustrated with the government and
parliament's failure to contain Islamist fighters and other
militias who took part in rebellion and who have since openly
defied the authorities to demand more oil wealth and power.
Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who split with the autocrat in
the 1980s, is the latest player to emerge in Libya's network of
former fighters vying for control over parts of the country.
Culture Minister Habib Lamin, who has acted as cabinet
spokesman, told Reuters some deputies had asked the government
to arm the Islamist militant group Ansar Sharia to confront
"The government rejected this," he said and, underlining
tensions between government and parliament, accused deputies of
having contributed to the chaos by approving militia funding in
The parliament is split between Islamist parties loosely
allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, the anti-Islamist National
Forces Alliance, and scores of independents and tribal leaders
of varying allegiances.
Western governments are concerned Libya's instability may
worsen and spill over into its North African neighbours, who are
still emerging from the political unrest following the 2011
"Arab Spring" revolts.
Libya's new Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq on Wednesday called
for negotiations to end Libya's crisis and said he wanted to
form a new cabinet open to all political factions which reject
"I personally promise to hold negotiations with all sides,"
said Maiteeq, without mentioning Haftar by name, in his first
press conference since he was elected this month in a chaotic
parliamentary vote disputed by some lawmakers.
Militiamen, who Haftar later said were loyal to him, stormed
the General National Congress (GNC), Libya's parliament, and
fought for six hours with other armed groups on the airport road
Two days earlier, Haftar's troops had attacked Islamist
militants in Benghazi in the worst clashes in the eastern city
for months, killing more than 70 people.
In a further sign of unrest, gunmen abducted three Chinese
engineers from their construction site in the eastern city of
Benghazi on Tuesday, according to China's official press agency,
One was later found shot and died in hospital while his two
colleagues were released, Xinhua reported.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, Feras Bosalum and Ulf Laessing;
Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Patrick Markey, Andrew