Rallies over rogue general turn violent in Libyan capital

June 07, 2014 - 6:11:06 am
Damaged cars and debris are seen at the site of a bombing that targeted the house of former security chief Hashem Besher in Tripoli yesterday.

TRIPOLI: Rival rallies in the Libyan capital for and against an anti-jihadist renegade ex-general turned violent yesterday, leaving at least one person injured, witnesses and private television said.

The rival groups gathered in central Tripoli despite police efforts to keep them apart and skirmishes broke out, with protesters hurling stones and plastic water bottles at each other.

Al Nabaa television said one man was injured. Witnesses in the city’s Martyrs Square said they also heard gunfire but it was unclear if they were warning shots by police or rounds fired by protesters.

On May 16, former general and longtime US exile Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in second city Benghazi dubbed “Operation Dignity,” aimed at eradicating jihadist “terrorists”.

The eastern city, cradle of the Nato-backed revolt that toppled and killed veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has become a bastion of jihadists blamed for a wave of deadly attacks on security forces.

Haftar has won widespread support for his campaign, including from air force units which have carried out air raids on jihadist positions in and around Benghazi. His supporters see him as the man to build a strong national army capable of crushing radical armed groups which have sprung up across Libya from the ranks of rebels who fought in the 2011 revolt.

But Haftar has been branded an “outlaw” by Libya’s interim authorities, while his Islamist detractors have accused him of leading a coup — a claim he denies. On Wednesday, Haftar escaped an assassination bid but three of his aides were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a villa outside Benghazi where he was holding a meeting.