Libya on brink of civil war
TRIPOLI / BENGHAZI
AA PhotoThe Muslim Brotherhood rejected calls for lawmakers to go into recess after approving a budget and holding a new vote of confidence in the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Miitig. The General National Congress claims executive as well as legislative authority and has repeatedly accused General Khalifa Hafter, who led a deadly assault on Islamist militia in second city Benghazi last week, of attempting a coup.
Haftar, a former Gadhafi-era general who lived in exile in the United States for more than two decades before returning during the uprising, has long drawn accusations of being linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, first from the Gadhafi regime, and then from rival rebel commanders.
But the former general has won widening support for his campaign, not only from militia groups but also from the special forces of the regular army in Benghazi. Islamist militia in both Benghazi and the capital vowed to resist any move against them by Haftar’s forces, whose militia allies already stormed parliament at the weekend, forcing the venue for a meeting to be shifted to a Tripoli hotel on May 20.
The Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries, a powerful Islamist militia, vowed to defend the parliament by force if necessary. In Benghazi, jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Washington, vowed to resist any renewed assault by Haftar’s forces on its positions in the eastern city.
The group charged that Haftar, who spent more than two decades in exile in the United States, was leading “a war against... Islam orchestrated by the United States and its Arab allies.” Haftar’s forces pulled out of Benghazi after the attack which left at least 79 people dead.
But he has vowed to re-enter Benghazi to cleanse it of “terrorists” and on May 19 won the support of special forces in the city which stayed out of last week’s fighting but have suffered mounting losses to suspected jihadist attacks in recent weeks. “A confrontation is now inevitable to defend our city and our land,” Ansar al-Sharia said in its statement. “We will act with force against anyone who enters the city or attacks it.”
The General National Congress (GNC) was due to convene yesterday afternoon to debate the budget and the motion of confidence in Miitig’s government, lawmaker Suad Ganur told Agence France-Presse. She said both the agenda and the change of venue had been sent to MPs by text message late May 19.
A first confidence vote earlier this month was marred by accusations of irregularities and the government has called on the GNC to repeat it, and then go into recess until a new legislature can be elected, something to which the Islamists are implacably opposed. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Party for Justice and Construction, called on the premier to respect parliament and disown the plan.