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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Dec 2014

World

Libyan militants take main military base in Benghazi
Reuters
Benghazi/Tripoli, July 30, 2014
First Published: 08:09 IST(30/7/2014)
Last Updated: 10:59 IST(30/7/2014)

Militant fighters overran a Libyan special forces base in the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday after a battle involving rockets and warplanes that killed at least 30 people.

A special forces officer said they had to abandon their main camp in the southeast of Benghazi after coming under sustained attack from a coalition of Islamist fighters and former rebel militias in the city.

"We have withdrawn from the army base after heavy shelling," Saiqa Special Forces officer Fadel Al-Hassi told Reuters.


A masked Libyan gunman in the eastern city of Benghazi . AFP

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A separate special forces spokesman confirmed the militants had taken over the camp after the troops pulled out. Part of the area is Camp 36 in the Bu Attni district and the special forces school.

Intense fighting in Benghazi, Libya's second city, and  battles between rival militias in the capital Tripoli have pushed the nation deeper into chaos after two weeks of the fiercest violence since the civil war which ousted Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Benghazi has been at the centre of fighting between special forces and ex-rebel fighters of the Benghazi Shura Council who have joined up with the Ansar al Sharia, a militant Islamist group, residents said.

Ansar al Sharia, classified as a terrorist organisation by Washington, has been blamed by authorities for attacking the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 when the US ambassador was killed.


People stand next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane which crashed. AFP

Special forces and some regular air force units had recently joined forces with a renegade former army general, Khalifa Haftar, who had launched a self-declared campaign to clear the city of Islamist militants.

A government MiG warplane crashed during Tuesday's fighting in Benghazi. A Reuters reporter saw the pilot parachuting to ground after hearing an explosion.

Since clashes erupted two weeks ago, foreign states followed the United States and the United Nations in pulling diplomats out of the North African oil-producing state. Fighting in Tripoli between two rival brigades of former anti-Gaddafi rebels closed the capital's international airport.

A rocket hit a fuel depot near Tripoli airport two days ago, igniting a huge blaze that fire-fighters were still trying to put out. Italy's government and Italian oil group ENI  had agreed to help them, the government said.


A picture taken on July 28, 2014 shows Libyan firefighters dousing a huge blaze at an oil tank started by clashes around Tripoli. AFP


Militias Fight For Upper Hand

Three years after Gaddafi's fall, the OPEC nation has failed to control ex-rebel militias who refuse to disband and who are threatening the unity of the country. The extent of recent hostilities has increased Western worries that Libya is sliding towards becoming a failed state and may once again go to war.

Despite the violence, Libya's oil production remained at around 500,000 barrels per day, and its oilfields are secure, Samir Salim Kamal, director of planning at the oil ministry told Reuters on Tuesday.

That was an increase from earlier this year when unrest pushed output as low as about 200,000 bpd, but it remains well below the usual 1.4 million bpd.   


Plumes of smoke rise in the sky after a rocket hit a fuel storage tank near the airport road in Tripoli. AFP

While the tribal way of life declined as growing oil wealth attracted Libyans to towns and cities, traditional power structures remain strong in the nation of about six million people.

Gaddafi's strategy effectively amounted to a system of divide and rule, buying off established tribal leaders.

In Egypt, the army has proved to be the supreme political force but in the post-Gaddafi era the Libyan militias are fighting for power, influence and oil wealth.

Tripoli was quieter on Tuesday than over the last fortnight during which the two brigades of former rebels, mainly from the towns of Zintan and Misrata, have pounded each other's positions with Grad rockets, artillery fire and cannons, turning the south of the capital into a battlefield.

Nearly 200 people have died in Tripoli and Benghazi during the clashes in the two cities, according to the health ministry and local medical officials.

Fuel Tanks Ablaze

A spokesman for the National Oil Corporation said on Tuesday the armed factions in Tripoli had agreed to a brief cease-fire to allow emergency services to fight the blazing fuel storage tanks containing millions of litres of fuel.

The tanks are operated by Brega oil company, which is owned by NOC, and store oil for consumption in Libya.

Black smoke billowed from one of the tanks hit by a rocket on Sunday near the airport road. The highway and surrounding areas were empty after homes in the area were evacuated, except for occasional militia roadblocks.


A general view shows fire burning at a fuel depot near the airport road in Tripoli. AFP

Fire-fighters were spraying the area with water to cool down storage depots near the fuel tank that was set ablaze to try to extinguish the inferno.

The United States, whose embassy is near the contested airport, evacuated its embassy staff in Tripoli on Saturday, driving diplomats across the border into Tunisia under heavy military guard including air support from warplanes.

Britain, other European governments, Turkey and the Philippines have also pulled out diplomatic staff or left just a few representatives behind in Tripoli, where the violence is also causing fuel and power shortages.

France and Spain on Tuesday were evacuating more nationals and some diplomats from Tripoli, according to LANA. Canada is temporarily pulling out its diplomats due to fears about their safety, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Tuesday.

Libya ex-deputy PM kidnapped in Tripoli: family
   
An armed group abducted a former Libyan deputy prime minister and newly-elected MP, Mustapha Abu Shagur, in the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, his nephew said.

"Men in three cars kidnapped my uncle from his house and took him away to an unknown destination," Issam al-Naass told AFP.

"Twenty minutes before his abduction, Mr Abu Shagur received a call from a stranger who asked him to leave the house because of imminent danger," he added.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the kidnapping.

Abu Shagur was elected a deputy in Libya's June 25 legislative election, in which he stood as an independent candidate.

He is due to take up his post on August 4, at the opening session of the Chamber of Representatives, elected in place of an interim parliament, the General National Congress.

Abu Shagur was deputy prime minister for a year under Abdelrahim al-Kib, who led a first transitional government in the wake of the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Kidnappings and assassinations of politicians, rights activists and journalists have multiplied in the chaos gripping Libya since Kadhafi's fall.

Ex-prime minister Ali Zeidan was abducted for several hours last October, highlighting the failure of authorities to rein in dozens of militias across the country.


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