Renegade Libyan general tells civilians to leave parts of Benghazi before new attack

May 17, 2014

The self-declared Libyan National Army, led by a renegade general, told civilians on Saturday to leave parts of Benghazi before it launches a fresh attack on Islamist militants. The warning came a day after dozens were killed in the worst clashes in the city in months.

Families could be seen packing up and driving away from western areas of the port city where Islamist militants and LNA forces led by retired general Khalifa Haftar fought for hours Friday, killing at least 43 people.

Dressed in military uniform, Haftar, whom the speaker of parliament accused of plotting a coup, said his troops had temporarily withdrawn from Benghazi for tactical reasons.

“We’ll come back with force,” he told reporters at a sports club in Abyar, a small town east of Benghazi. “We’ve started this battle and will continue it until we have reached our goals.”

He said government and parliament had no legitimacy, as they had failed to achieve security. “The street and the Libyan people are with us,” he said, adding that his troops were spread out in several parts of eastern Libya.

In Tripoli, parliamentary speaker and military commander-in-chief Nuri Abu Sahmain said Hafter was trying to stage a coup.

“[LNA] members who have carried out the clashes in Benghazi are out of the control of the state of Libya, and they are trying to attempt a coup for their own interests,” Abu Sahmain said in a televised news conference.

A Health Ministry official said the death toll had risen to 43, with more than 100 wounded. Haftar said 60 militants and six of his soldiers were killed, and 250 militants and 37 of his men were wounded.

A worker in a hospital that received at least 40 corpses said, “More bodies are coming in from areas outside Benghazi.”

Authorities extended the closure of Benghazi’s Benina International Airport on Saturday. Egyptair halted flights to Benghazi until the security situation improves, an Egyptian security official said.

The Libyan army declared a no-fly zone after Haftar’s forces used at least one helicopter during Friday’s fighting, according to a statement on the chief of staff’s Web site.

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