Libya’s new prime minister has warned that fighting extremism without government involvement could split the country, after clashes in Benghazi left 21 people dead and 82 others injured.
Ahmed Maetig held a cabinet meeting on Monday evening in the capital Tripoli, having been elected by parliament last month, and denounced clashes that had taken place in the eastern city.
In a televised statement he said: “As the [new] government starts its duties, we are committed to protect our people. We’ll take the responsibility of implementing security all over the country and fight terror and extremists.
“Extremism is not accepted from any party. Fighting it without government involvement will split Libya and that could be difficult to fix later. We won’t allow anyone to threaten neighbouring countries”
Monday’s clashes were between an armed group, Ansar al-Sharia, and forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a former general.
Witnesses said that gunfire, which began the day before, could be heard across the city, particularly coming from a special forces army base in a western suburb of Benghazi.
Haftar is campaigning to rid Libya of “extremists” and “terrorists”.
Local residents said Monday’s fighting was the worst they had seen since March 2011, when forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi tried to enter the city.
Ansar al-Sharia gained support following the death of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The group is thought to be behind the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four people including the US ambassador.
Libya is in turmoil three years after the NATO-backed war that removed Gaddafi, with various factions locked in conflict.