A renegade general, who has launched an assault against militias in Libya’s east, has warned that the country has become a “terrorist hub”, and called for a civilian presidential high council to form an emergency cabinet and organise legislative elections.
Claiming to speak in the name of the army, Khalifa Haftar urged Libya’s highest judicial authority on Wednesdsay “to form a civilian presidential high council tasked with forming an emergency cabinet and organising legislative elections”.
Speaking from the eastern town of Al Abyar, he said the presidential council he envisions would hand over power to an elected parliament.
“Libya has become a hub for terrorists who control power,” said Haftar, who has been branded an outlaw by the authorities after launching an assault in the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday in which at least 79 people were killed.
Haftar, who was once one of former leader Muammer Gaddafi’s top generals before falling from grace and going into US exile, read a statement broadcast on several Libyan networks.
He returned to support the rebellion in 2011 but has this year emerged as the most serious challenge to the post-Gaddafi authorities born of the rebellion against Gaddafi.
Oil-rich Libya has called an election for June 25 to replace its disputed interim parliament, the General National Council (GNC), and try to resolve the power struggle, but violence among armed groups threatens to scupper the vote.
Highlighting the seriousness of the security threat, the navy’s chief of staff, Rear Admiral Hassan Abu Shnak, his driver and two guards were wounded on Wednesday when gunmen attacked his convoy in Tripoli.
It was not known what prompted the attack on the admiral. Abu Shnak was on his way to work when his convoy came under fire, spokesman Colonel Ayub Kassem the told the AFP news agency.
“He was lightly wounded in the head. A driver and two guards were also wounded, but their injuries are not life threatening,” he said.
Militias are blamed for growing unrest in the country since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ended Gaddafi’s rule.
Successive governments have complained that the GNC’s claim to executive power, as well as legislative authority, has tied their hands in taming the militias.
The government hopes such a vote could help avoid civil war after Haftar, whom authorities branded an “outlaw,” launched an assault on Friday on militias the retired general describes as “jihadists” in Benghazi.
Haftar’s supporters include an elite special forces unit of the regular army in Benghazi, who have suffered mounting losses in attacks by the militias who are well entrenched in the city.
Gunmen from the former rebel Zintan brigade, saying they back Haftar, stormed the Islamist-dominated parliament in Tripoli on Sunday, setting fire to an annex.
The secretary general of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, Bashir al-Kabti, has denied accusations of “supporting terrorism” which Haftar levels against the Islamist group dominating the GNC.
In a phone interview with the DPA news agency, he accused Haftar of attempting to import Egypt’s scenario of a ‘coup’ against its own branch of the brotherhood. Kabti also called for dialogue to avoid further bloodshed.
Police brigades, officers at Tobruk airbase and the powerful Al-Baraassa tribe from the east have also declared support for Haftar.
The chief of staff of Libya’s air defence units, Colonel Gomaa al-Abbani, told a private television channel he was joining Haftar’s offensive, dubbed “Operation Dignity.”