Voice of America (Washington, DC)

20 May 2014

Libya's Factions Ramp Up Battle for Control

Cairo — Libya's electoral commission has announced that it will hold national parliamentary elections on June 25.

The announcement comes as days of clashes between government forces and those loyal to a rogue general renewed fears of a descent into civil war.

General Khalifa Haftar touts himself as a nationalist who is waging a war to save Libya from Islamic extremists. Fighting between his forces and their rivals has killed at least 70 people since Friday.

Forces loyal to Haftar, which overran parliament Sunday, vow to press their fight against what they call an illegitimate government, its Islamist allies as well as regional and al-Qaida-affiliated militias.

Colonel Wanis Boukhamada, who offered the support of his elite forces to Haftar's side Monday, issued a plea to what he called "authentic revolutionaries" for more help.

Boukhamada said his special forces will join in the battle against current authorities until "terrorism" is stamped out.

Fighting between Haftar forces and their rivals in the capital Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi has left at least 70 people dead since Friday.

Military forces who remain loyal to Libya's current government pledged to fight back, and asked for help from Islamist allies in order to support what they call the legitimate order.

Chief of Staff General Abdel Salam al Obeidi urged that power be transferred in a legal and peaceful way, echoing calls for new elections.

Most of Libya's many political and militia forces stake their claim to legitimacy on the uprising that forced longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi from power in 2011. No single force or coalition has been able to exert effective central control since.

The unrest has prompted the U.S. military to increase troops and aircraft stationed in southern Italy in case U.S. personnel in Libya need to be evacuated. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other states have closed their diplomatic missions in Libya in recent days.

In an interview with al-Sharq al-Aswat newspaper, Haftar said he is trying to rid Libya of the Muslim Brotherhood, and accused members of the Islamist group in Egypt of fueling unrest in Libya.

Egyptian police near the Libyan border say they have received orders to close the frontier until stability has been restored.

Scores of Egyptian migrant workers have been kidnapped and held for ransom in eastern Libya in recent weeks.

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