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Clashes erupt in Tripoli as gunmen storm Libyan parliament

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-19

Heavily armed gunmen stormed Libya's parliament on Sunday demanding its suspension and claiming loyalty to a renegade army general who has vowed to purge the country of Islamist militants.

Smoke rose over parliament after gunmen attacked and then withdrew in a confusing, chaotic assault that saw gunmen clash with guards.

It is yet unclear if there were any casualties, though an official told Reuters that two had been killed and 55 wounded.

General Mokhtar Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel claiming to be spokesperson of General Khalifa Hafter’s group, said it had suspended parliament (known as the General National Congress) and assigned a 60-member constituent assembly in its place.

Farnana said Sunday's attack on Libya's parliament was not a coup, but “fighting by people's choice.''

"We announce to the world that the country can't be a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism," said Farnana, who wore a military uniform and sat in front of Libya's flag.

Private television channel Libya International was hit by rockets, shortly after broadcasting the statement.

MPs reportedly evacuated

Witnesses identified the assailants as members of the powerful Zintan brigades who are known for their opposition to the Islamists and have attacked parliament, known as the General National Congress, before.

MPs were evacuated from the building in southern Tripoli as heavy gunfire erupted after a convoy of armoured vehicles entered the city from the airport road and headed for the GNC.

Residents said gunmen in civilian clothes attacked the building.

The gunmen targeted Islamist lawmakers and officials Hafter blames for allowing extremists to hold the country ransom, his reported spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi told Libya's al-Ahrar television station.

It is as yet unclear how much backing Haftar's men have within Libya's nascent regular armed forces and the country's powerful brigades of former rebels.

Justice Minister Saleh al-Mergani condemned the assault on parliament and rejected the group's demands.

Any alliance of militias lining up against Islamist groups threatens to deepen chaos in the OPEC oil producer where a fragile government already struggles to gain legitimacy and impose authority over brigades of former fighters.

Three years after the 2011 civil war that toppled dictator Muammar Gadhafi, the planned new constitution remains unwritten and the country has had three prime ministers since March.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-05-18

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