BENGHAZI: Libya’s government accused an “outlaw” retired general and his irregular forces yesterday of trying to carry out a coup as they fight to crush Islamist militants in the restive eastern city of Benghazi.
Khalifa Haftar, who lead ground forces in the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, used warplanes and helicopters on Friday to support an offensive in pitched battles that killed 37 people.
Reacting to his vow to continue fighting until Benghazi is “purged of terrorists,” the army announced a no-fly zone over the port city and suburbs, vowing to shoot down any aircraft that defies the ban. The government, parliament and army charged that Haftar’s operation was tantamount to a coup against the central authorities.
It is “an action outside state legitimacy and a coup d’etat,” said a joint statement read on state television by Nuri Abu Sahmein, the head of the General National Congress. “All those who took part in this coup bid will be prosecuted,” said Abu Sahmein, flanked by recently appointed Prime Minister Abdullah Al Thinni and armed forces chief of staff Abdessalam Jadallah Al Salihin.
Haftar’s threat to purge Benghazi was an affront to the authorities, who have struggled to stomp out lawlessness in the North African nation, which is awash with weapons and effectively ruled by a patchwork of former rebels.
Meanwhile, a tentative calm was shattered yesterday when a war plane bombed an Islamist position in the northwest of the city, one of the ex-rebels said. “We fired at the plane which missed its target,” said the source, adding that there were no casualties.
Yesterday, the army’s high command declared all of Benghazi and its suburbs a “no fly zone until further notice,” state-run Lana news agency said. “All military planes flying over the city will be shot down by army units... and units of the revolutionaries (ex-rebels),” it said. It is not clear if the fledgling army, which is still trying to bolster its capacity, has the means to carry out that threat.