TRIPOLI, Libya — Forces apparently loyal to a renegade Libyan general said they suspended parliament Sunday after earlier leading a military assault against lawmakers, directly challenging the legitimacy of the country's weak central government three years after the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Libya's leadership condemned the attack and vowed to carry on.
A commander in the military police in Libya read a statement announcing the suspension on behalf of a group led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a one-time rebel commander who said the U.S. backed his efforts to topple Gadhafi in the 1990s. Hours earlier, militia members backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire attacked parliament, sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives as gunmen ransacked the legislature.
Gen. Mokhtar Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel on behalf of Hifter's group, said it assigned a 60-member constituent's assembly to take over for parliament. Farnana said Libya's current government would act on as an emergency Cabinet, without elaborating.
Farnana, who is in charge of prisons operated by the military police, said forces loyal to Hifter carried out Sunday's attack on parliament. He also said Sunday's attack on Libya's parliament was not a coup, but "fighting by the people's choice."
"We announce to the world that the country can't be a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism," said Farnana, who wore a military uniform and sat in front of Libya's flag.
Early Monday morning, Libya's interim government condemned the attack on parliament and largely ignored the declaration by the general's group.
"The government condemns the expression of political opinion through the use of armed force," Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said in a statement. "It calls for an immediate end of the use the military arsenal ... and calls on all sides to resort to dialogue and reconciliation."
Militias that backed the country's interim government manned checkpoints around the capital late Sunday. Hifter's forces in Tripoli appeared concentrated around the road to the city's airport and its southern outskirts.
The attack on parliament, which al-Marghani said killed two people and wounded more than 50, came after an assault Friday by Hifter's forces on Islamist militias in the restive eastern city of Benghazi that authorities said killed 70 people. On Sunday, gunmen targeted the Islamist lawmakers and officials Hifter blames for allowing extremists to hold the country ransom, his spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi told Libyan television station al-Ahrar.
"This parliament is what supports these extremist Islamist entities," al-Hegazi said. "The aim was to arrest these Islamist bodies who wear the cloak of politics."
The fighting spread to the capital's southern edge Sunday night and along the airport highway.
— The Associated Press
First published May 18 2014, 9:34 AM