Claiming to speak on behalf of the army, Gen. Khalifa Hifter terms the attack as a battle by ‘the people’s choice’
Claiming to speak on behalf of the army, Gen. Khalifa Hifter terms the attack as a battle by ‘the people’s choice’

Suspend the house, question legitimacy of the government

Tripoli : The Libyan capital remained tense on Monday after forces loyal to a renegade general stormed the parliament and said they suspended the house, challenging the legitimacy of the country’s weak central government, three years after the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya’s leadership condemned Sunday’s brazen attack in which two people reportedly died and more than 50 were wounded, and vowed to carry on. The attack saw militia members backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire raid the parliament building in the heart of Tripoli, sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives as gunmen ransacked the legislature.

Hours later, a commander in the military police in Libya read a statement announcing the suspension of parliament on behalf of a group led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a one-time rebel commander who said the US had backed his efforts to topple Gadhafi in the 1990s. Mokhtar Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel on behalf of Hifter’s group, said it assigned a 60-member constituent’s assembly to take over for parliament. Farnana said Libya’s current government would act on as an emergency Cabinet, without elaborating.

Farnana, who is in charge of prisons operated by the military police, said forces loyal to Hifter carried out the attack, insisting it was not a coup, but a battle by ‘the 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.

Libya’s interim government condemned the attack on parliament in a statement issued shortly after midnight on Sunday, and largely ignored the declaration by the general’s group.

“The government condemns the expression of political opinion through the use of armed force,” Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said in a statement. “It calls for an immediate end of the use the military arsenal … and calls on all sides to resort to dialogue and reconciliation.”

Militias that backed the country’s interim government manned checkpoints around the capital late yesterday. Hifter’s forces in Tripoli appeared concentrated around the road to the city’s airport and its southern outskirts. By today morning, gunfire along the capital’s airport highway had died down and a tentative calm returned to the city. Authorities seemed determined to convey a message of business-as-usual. Libyan news agency LANA cited the Ministry of Education as denying that high school end-of-tern exams were suspended. The ministry urged students to go to school as normal.

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Free Press Journal