Haftar supporters rally as his forces lose ground in battle

Eastern-based commander urges supporters to pave 'way for building civil state that the Libyan people look forward to'.

     The fight for Libya's capital has raged for nearly a year and killed thousands [File: Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu]
    The fight for Libya's capital has raged for nearly a year and killed thousands [File: Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu]

    Libya's renegade commander Khalifa Haftar pledged to pave "the way for building a civil state" as he addressed supporters following significant losses inflicted on his forces by the Government of National Accord (GNA).

    At the rally on Thursday in Al Marj - 720km (450 miles) west of the capital Tripoli - Haftar also accused the UN-recognised GNA, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, of committing a number of war crimes during months of fighting.

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    "We invite you [Libyan people] to drop the so-called political agreement and … the illegal installation of this agent gang, and to immediately decide to delegate the institution you deem appropriate to lead the next stage and manage the affairs of the country," said Haftar.

    He urged Libyans to ensure "the passage of this stage in peace" and pave "the way for building a civil state that the Libyan people look forward to".

    The fight for the country's capital has raged for more than a year between Haftar's forces, which are allied with a rival government based in eastern Libya, and an array of armed groups in the west linked to the GNA in Tripoli.

    Pressure to end violence

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    Amid increased international pressure on both sides to halt the violence over concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus, the president of Libya's eastern-based House of Representatives proposed the formation of a presidential council by consensus, or vote among Libyan regional representatives under the supervision of the United Nations.

    Aguila Saleh's proposal included the formation of a committee to develop and draft a constitution for the country, after which presidential and parliamentary elections would be organised.

    After Hafter's speech, large groups of people took to the streets in support of him and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), chanting slogans against the GNA and Turkey's military intervention in the country.

    Forces under the command of Haftar have been laying siege to Tripoli since last April, trying to wrest the city from the UN-recognised government.

    The fighting has settled into a chaotic stalemate. Buttressed by Turkish air power, Western militias have allied with the beleaguered Tripoli government to reverse the tide in recent weeks and regain lost ground along the western coast.

    GNA forces last week attacked Tarhouna, the main western stronghold and supply line for Haftar's forces, 72km (45 miles) southeast of Tripoli.

    Haftar's march on the capital has so far resulted in a military stalemate, killed hundreds of civilians, and displaced tens of thousands.

    Haftar forces suffer string of defeats in battle for Tripoli

    Rejection of EU's Operation IRINI

    Meanwhile, the GNA rejected a new EU military operation in the Mediterranean Sea to stifle weapons shipments into Libya, Al Ahrar TV reported on Friday.

    Al-Sarraj sent a message to the UN Security Council saying his country opposes Operation IRINI, which was established to monitor the UN arms embargo on the oil-rich North African nation.

    The GNA leader said the operation neglected to control the airspace and land borders through which arms, equipment, and ammunition are reaching Haftar's forces.

    On March 31, EU foreign ministers approved the launch of Operation IRINI. The mission aims to operate in the air, sea and with satellites to ensure all countries respect the ban on providing arms to the parties involved in the Libyan conflict.

    The EU forces will also watch for illegal oil exports, prevent human trafficking, and contribute to the training of the local coastguard and navy.

    Since the overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: Haftar in eastern Libya supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates; and the GNA in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition and military backing from Turkey.

    SOURCE: News agencies