TRIPOLI, Libya – Forces loyal to a Libyan general attacked the country's parliament Sunday, expanding his eastern offensive against Islamists into the heart of the country's capital. Gunmen detained some 20 lawmakers and officials, authorities said, as black smoke rose over the parliament.
The violence, three years after the 2011 civil war that toppled dictator Moammar Qaddafi, threatens to further splinter a country dominated by militias.
The troops of Gen. Khalifa Hifter targeted Islamist lawmakers and officials, his spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi told Libya's al-Ahrar television station.
Al-Hegazi said Hifter blames the officials for allowing extremists forces to exert considerable influence in the country.
His troops struck two Islamists militia bases Friday in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city, setting off clashes that killed 70 people, Libya's Health Ministry said.
Recently, Islamists backed the naming of a new prime minister amid walkouts from the non-Islamist groups. The new interim prime minister has not yet named a Cabinet.
Al-Mashri said the attackers wanted to prevent lawmakers from picking a new Cabinet.
"There aim is to destroy an icon democracy elected by the people," he said.
But splits in Libya are also regional and ethnic, with longstanding rivalries between the country's eastern and western regions.
Since Hifter's offensive in Benghazi began on Friday, many of his supporters have pushed for him to take action in the capital, Tripoli, complaining about the country's ineffective government.
On Saturday, Hifter said he will press on with his offensive in Benghazi, despite warnings by the central government that cooperating troops will be tried. They labelled his moves a coup attempt.
Hifter, who once headed the army under Qaddafi but defected in the 1980s, had been assigned to help rebuild the country's military, but he was removed soon after. He appeared in an online video in February and proclaimed he intended to "rescue" the nation. Authorities described also that declaration as a coup attempt, though he apparently was never arrested.
Source : Agencies