Thousands rally to support renegade Libyan general

Thousands rally to support renegade Libyan general

Khalifa Hifter vows to restore order, has launched a military campaign against Islamist militias in country’s east

Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya. May 17, 2014 (photo credit: AP Photo/Mohammed el-Shaiky)
Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya. May 17, 2014 (photo credit: AP Photo/Mohammed el-Shaiky)

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Several thousand Libyan protesters took to the streets Friday for a second week to support a renegade general who has launched an armed campaign against Islamist militias in the restive east of the country.

Supporters of Gen. Khalifa Hifter gathered in the capital, Tripoli, the eastern city of Benghazi and elsewhere, protesting against the Islamist-led parliament and its newly appointed prime minister, chanting: “The army of dignity is coming.” They also raised banners reading: “Our people and army fighting terrorism.”

Similar protests took place last week in support of Hifter, who says he aims to crush Islamist militias backed by parliament and impose stability after three years of chaos following the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Hifter has welcomed the street rallies and says they have given him a “mandate to fight terrorism.”

Local media footage showed protesters in Tripoli destroying a coffin on which they had written “Ansar al-Sharia,” the name of an al-Qaida-inspired militia, and “Ahmed Maiteg,” the name of the newly appointed Islamist-backed prime minister.

Hundreds of protesters nearby called for strengthening the country’s security forces but chanted against Hifter. They voiced support for parliament while holding a banner reading “No to terrorism.”

The rival demonstrators briefly scuffled, and two police officers were wounded while separating them, a security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

Libya’s weak central government has struggled to assert control over the former rebel brigades that have turned into militias, many of which are more loyal to tribe, region or ideology than to the government in Tripoli. Hifter’s supporters have accused the parliament of funding Islamist militias while his detractors have accused him of staging a “coup” against the elected assembly.

The demonstrations come amid a political struggle between the Islamist-led parliament and Maiteg and current interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.

On May 4, the Islamist-dominated parliament appointed Maiteg in a disputed vote amid a walkout by secular lawmakers, which al-Thinni’s Cabinet refused to acknowledge. In response to al-Thinni refusal to hand over power to his proposed successor, the head of the Islamist-led parliament warned al-Thinni he could be arrested.

“Refusing to hand over power sets an infamous precedent in the history of democracy,” the statement by Nouri Abu Sahmein said. “It means nothing but clinging to power.”

Meanwhile, authorities found the corpse of Nasseb Karnafa, a prominent female journalist, in the southern city of Sabha. Earlier this week, the chief editor of a Libyan newspaper was gunned down in Benghazi.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press

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