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Africa

Rival Libyan militias exchange heavy fire at Tripoli airport

© @zaidbenjamin, Twitter | Picture of an explosion during fighting outside Tripoli airport's terminal posted on social networks.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-14

Islamists on Sunday attacked the rival Zintan militia that now controls the airport in Tripoli, triggering fierce clashes that halted flights amid already heightened tensions as Libya awaits the results of contentious elections.

The exchanges of fire with heavy weapons killed at least six people and wounded 25, a health ministry official said.

The Islamist militant assault on the anti-Islamist Zintan militia came after the UN pulled staff from Libya citing security concerns and as Washington warned of further escalation.

An airport official said "rockets struck inside the airport perimeter around 6am (4am GMT)", followed by heavy clashes between the rival gunmen.

Loud explosions and heavy gunfire were heard in the city centre, 25 kilometres (15 miles) away, AFP correspondents reported.

An airport source said Zintan fighters pushed back the assailants but that clashes continued to rage around the facility, as locals reported seeing tanks deploy and smoke billowing.

The former rebel militia from Zintan, a hill town southwest of the capital, are the main supporters of the liberals in parliament who are trying to resist attempts by powerful Islamists bidding for power in the vacuum left by Muammar Gaddafi's ouster.

The attack was claimed by the Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries, a coalition of Islamist militias considered the armed wing of Islamists within the General National Congress or parliament.

"The revolutionary forces arrive within the perimeter of Tripoli airport and clash with armed groups inside," the group said on its Facebook page.

Reuters reported that explosions could be heard on the airport road and other parts of Tripoli.

British Airlines cancelled its flight to London, according to its website, while Turkish Airways cancelled its flight to Istanbul.

Contested general election

The fighting comes weeks after a contested general election to replace the Islamist-dominated General National Congress which has been mired in controversy and accused of hogging power.

Libya, awash with weapons since the end of the 2011 uprising, has also been plagued by growing lawlessness while on the political front rivals cabinets are jostling for power.

The clashes came just hours after the United States warned that the conflict could become "widespread" unless a new parliament is seated quickly and a new constitution drafted.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in Libya and dangerous posturing that could lead to widespread conflict there," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We affirm our support for Libya's democratic transition and urge the seating of the new Council of Representatives as soon as possible," she added.

She insisted that drafting a new constitution "must advance without interference or violence".

But on Sunday of last week Libya's electoral commission scrapped the results from 24 polling stations citing fraud.

It also said that final results from the June 25 vote would be not announced until later this month and would cover only 184 of the 200 seats in the new GNC.

The mounting violence prompted the United Nations Support Mission in Libya to announce on Thursday that it was pulling out dozens of staff from the North African country.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-07-13

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