There were scenes of confusion around Libya’s parliament building in Tripoli on Sunday as it was stormed by heavily armed gunmen claimed to be forces loyal to the country’s former army chief Khalifa Haftar.
Smoke rose from the parliament, which witnesses said had been shelled causing lawmakers to flee.
Renegade ex-general Haftar has vowed to rid Libya of Islamist militants and the Tripoli attack comes three days after men under his command launched a major air-and-ground attack against hardline Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Libya’s Health Ministry said 70 people had been killed in the Benghazi fighting and 141 people were injured.
Haftar said the Benghazi attacks were because Libya’s government had failed to halt violence there and was allowing extremists to exert considerable influence in the country
Benghazi was the cradle of the uprising against Gaddafi, but authorities have struggled to curb violence and stem attacks in the east which have been mostly blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group that Washington labels as a terrorist organisation.
In February Haftar released a video in which he called for a presidential committee to be formed to govern until new elections could be held as a way to end Libya’s political impasse. At that time he denied it was a coup d’etat.
Haftar is a former rebel in the war that deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It is unclear how much support he has in the regular armed forces or among the competing militias in Libya.
Libya’s parliament has been paralysed for months by divisions between Islamist and nationalist parties.
Many Libyans are frustrated at the lack of progress toward democratic transition since the fall of Gaddafi, but In Tripoli people who the Associated Press spoke to also criticised the latest violence.
Local resident Mohamed Ali said: “We do not want any more militias or displays of arms. And Tripoli is considered a civilian city and we do not want anyone coming here and terrorising us, like what happened today.”
Another Tripoli resident, Khalid Yossef, echoed his complaint: “What is happening is a struggle for power, that’s it. And the people are the ones who are suffering and they are the real victims As you can hear there are bullets flying around, and it’s all down to your luck when that happens.”
with Reuters and AP