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Libya Responds to Raid On Parliament

Michael Johnson

Militiamen attacked Libya’s parliament building over the weekend, killing two people and wounding over 60. Libya’s army chief responded by calling for rival Islamists of the Libyan Shield militia to take up arms on Monday, as the worst violence in recent years seemed likely to escalate.

According to Western media, militia members from Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, used rocket propelled grenades and truck mounted anti-aircraft guns to gain access to government buildings. Acting under retired General Khalifa Heftar, the fighters announced that they suspended the General National Congress (GNC) and would assign a new emergency cabinet. A spokesman for the general said, on local TV, that Libya could no longer be “a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism,” referring to a recent increase in the influence of Islamists in government.

Militiamen attacked the parliament building in the capital Tripoli on Sunday. (Photo: AP)

Fellow Arab states seem to have taken the new attacks on local officials seriously. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates shuttered their embassies and withdrew their diplomatic staff. Meanwhile, neighboring Algeria also began imposing new restrictions at its border crossings. Additionally, Washington announced late on Monday that 200 Marines stationed in Italy are preparing for the evacuation of the U.S. mission to Libya.

This weekend’s unrest highlights the weakness of Libya’s central government to project power, even in the capital. Since Muammar Qaddafi’s overthrow in 2011, easy access to weapons and complex rivalries between numerous militant groups haved flamed continued instability. As militants target elected officials in Tripoli, politicians increasingly rely on other militias to fight on the government’s behalf.