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New Libyan parliament urges unity

House of Representatives calls for unity in as battles rage for Tripoli airport and Benghazi, Britain closes embassy.

Last updated: 04 Aug 2014 15:08
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The fighting over Tripoli's airport has been the worst in Libya since the 2011 war [Reuters]

Libya's newly elected parliament called for national unity at its first formal session on Monday, as rival armed factions battled for dominance of a country struggling to hold itself together three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Even as the new House of Representatives met, heavy artillery and rocket fire hit parts of southern and western Tripoli, where Misrata brigades are fighting to oust rival Zintani fighters from the international airport.

"A swift transition from the GNC to the new parliament is vital because the country is in turmoil," Azzedine al-Awami, the former deputy GNC chief, said at start of the first session.

"We hope all Libyans stand together to put our country's best interests first."

Justice Minister Saleh al-Marghani, standing in for the prime minister who was attending a summit in the United States, urged lawmakers to form a unity government.

Rival session

Lawmakers gathered, far from the fighting in the capital, in a heavily guarded hotel in the eastern city of Tobruk, after three weeks of fighting in Tripoli and in Benghazi had made the two main cities unsafe for the parliament session.

Some members of the new parliament and ex-GNC lawmakers did not attend the Tobruk session.

In Tripoli, Nouri Abusahmain, an Islamist who was president of the GNC, called for a rival parliamentary session in the capital to make an official handover of power.

A swift transition from the GNC to the new parliament is vital because the country is in turmoil

Azzedine al-Awami,former deputy GNC chief

Elected in June, the House of Representatives replaces the General National Congress (GNC) after a vote which analysts said eroded the political dominance that Islamist factions linked to the Muslim Brotherhood had in the legislature.

The General National Congress was stormed numerous times by different armed groups trying to pressure lawmakers on political decisions or to demand it dissolve.

More than 200 people have been killed in the recent fighting in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.

British embassy closed

The fighting over the airport three weeks ago has been the worst since the 2011 war.

The battle for Tripoli airport is part of a wider political struggle between two loose factions of ex-rebels and their political allies who once fought together against Gaddafi, but whose rivalries exploded over the spoils of post-war Libya.

On one side are the Zintan brigades - based in the city some 130 km (80 miles) southwest of Tripoli - with their anti-Islamist Qaaqaa and Al-Sawaiq fighters, including some ex-Gaddafi forces, and political allies who say they are a bulwark against Islamist extremists taking over Libya.

Against them are fighters loyal to the western port of Misrata who are allied with the Islamist Justice and Construction party, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, who say they are fighting to purge ex-Gaddafi elements.

Most of Tripoli has been calm, with fighting mainly restricted to the de facto frontlines in the south and parts of the west of the city. Fuel prices have soared on the black market as fighting has caused shortages.

Complicating Libya's security, in Benghazi an alliance of Islamist fighters and ex-rebels have joined together to battle Libyan armed forces, seizing a special forces military base last week and pushing the army outside of the city.

Britain was closing its embassy operations on Monday, one of the last foreign governments to pull its diplomatic staff, following the evacuation of the United States and the United Nations after the fighting erupted in Tripoli.

A Royal Navy ship on Sunday evacuated more than 100 British citizens, Libyan families and some foreign nationals. Some diplomats crossed by road into neighbouring Tunisia.

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Source:
Reuters
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