TRIPOLI A renegade former Libyan general says the country's new prime minister is not capable of restoring stability in the major oil producer and has called for a postponement of parliamentary elections planned for June.
Khalifa Haftar launched a campaign more than a week ago to rid Libya of what he calls "terrorists" and Islamist extremists, who are especially active in the oil-rich east.
Gunmen claiming loyalty to him attacked the parliament building in Tripoli a week ago to demand lawmakers hand over power, triggering the worst clashes in the capital for months.
Speaking to Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location in eastern Libya, Haftar did not rule out talking to Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq but dismissed him as illegitimate and not up to the job.
"We are open to talk to anyone who can defend the nation," he said. "(But) he is a businessman, not a man of war."
Voted into office with his cabinet with the help of a vote of confidence from the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday, Maiteeq has said he is ready to reach out to Haftar as he also wanted to focus on fighting terrorism.
But Haftar, who helped Gaddafi into power and then rebelled against him in the 80s, said: "He does not represent the people because the General National Congress (assembly) which voted for him is illegitimate. "
Denounced by Tripoli as a coup-plotter, Haftar is the latest player to challenge the central government which is unable to control militias, Islamists and armed tribesmen who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but are now battling state authority.
Several army units and senior officers have declared loyalty to his campaign against Ansar Sharia and other Islamist groups though it is unclear how much backing he enjoys.
Western powers and Libya's neighbors worry his drive will split the nascent army and its allied militias, propelling the North African nation further towards total instability.
Haftar also rejected the idea of holding elections on June 25 as planned by the Libya's parliament and election commission.
"We support elections but the timing needs to be right. The time is not appropriate while we fight terrorism," he said.
He said his campaign would last at least three months but declined to discuss troop strength or which areas he controls.
"There is for sure progress...(but) it is not appropriate to tell you this," Haftar said.
When asked whether he had any political ambitions to lead Libya one day, he said : "No, I just want to rid the country of terrorists, so that citizens can live unharmed."
(Editing by Louise Ireland)