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Libya: Former Gaddafi ally, Hifter seizes country

General Khalifa Hifter accuses the interim government for being soft on extremism and terrorism. Photo©Reuters
General Khalifa Hifter accuses the interim government for being soft on extremism and terrorism. Photo©Reuters
(The Africa Report) A former Libyan military general has invaded the country’s parliament, directly challenging the legitimacy of the weak central government, months after he released a video promising to “rescue” the nation.

Khalifa Hifter’s militiamen took over parliament with truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rockets.

Hifter, once an ally of slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi ally accuses the interim government for being soft on extremism and terrorism.

On Sunday, his forces targeted the Islamist lawmakers and officials, who according to Hifter, have allowed extremists to hold the country at ransom.

“This parliament is what supports these extremist Islamist entities. The aim was to arrest these Islamist bodies who wear the cloak of politics,” he said.

Hifter is being assisted by Mokhtar Farnana, another former Gaddafi era general.

Speaking on a Libyan television channel, Farnana said Sunday’s attack on parliament was not a coup, but “fighting by the people’s choice.”

“We announce to the world that the country can’t be a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism,” Farnana stated.

Hifter’s group assigned a 60-member constituent’s assembly to take over parliament.

Farnana said Libya’s current government would act only as an emergency Cabinet.

However, several lawmakers fled for their lives on Sunday as gunmen ransacked the parliament building. The attack led to two deaths while 50 were wounded.

Libya’s interim government which is divided between Islamist and non-Islamist factions, with rival militias lining up behind them, condemned the attack by Hifter and Farnana’s militiamen.

“The government condemns the expression of political opinion through the use of armed force,” Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said in a statement.

“[The government] calls for an immediate end of the use the military arsenal … and calls on all sides to resort to dialogue and reconciliation.”

On Saturday, Hifter appeared before journalists in his military uniform and promised he would press on with his Benghazi offensive.

Libya’s government; its army and police rely heavily on armed groups formed around ethnic identity, hometowns and religion most of whom helped toppled Gadhafi.

However, bringing these rebels under control has been one of the greatest challenges for Libya’s successive interim governments.

Hifter, however has been able to galvanise some of the rebel groups together including the federalist group that had declared an autonomous eastern government.

The group had seized the region’s oil terminals and ports for months, demanding a bigger share of oil revenue.

Three years after the overthrow of Gaddafi, Libya is still struggling to stabilize and enforce a rule of law.

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