Libya general says rallies give him mandate

Khalifa Haftar says renegade campaign against "terrorism" will continue after thousands march in his support.

    Thousands of Libyan protesters marched in support of Haftar's "Operation Dignity" in Tripoli [EPA]
    Thousands of Libyan protesters marched in support of Haftar's "Operation Dignity" in Tripoli [EPA]

    A renegade general leading a military offensive against Islamists dominating Libya's political scene on Saturday welcomed street rallies in support of his campaign, saying the demonstrations have given him a "mandate to fight terrorism".

    Major General Khalifa Haftar's remarks came a day after thousands took to the streets in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the eastern city of Benghazi and other cities waving Libyan flags and chanting his name.

    "People of Libya, you have given your orders. There is no going back on accepting the mandate and facing up to the challenge," Haftar said in a statement broadcast on Libya's Alahrar TV.

    Since launching his campaign eight days ago, Haftar has said he wants to crush Islamist groups backed by Libya's Islamist-dominated parliament, and impose stability after three years of chaos following the ouster and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 civil war.

    In Saturday's broadcast, Haftar said his forces would not return to their barracks until "terrorism" was defeated, and called on Libyans to keep up their support for his campaign.

    Haftar's spokesman, Mohammed Hegazi, called on troops who have not yet joined the campaign dubbed "Operation Dignity" to do so within 48 hours or "face penalties". He did not elaborate.

    Also on Saturday, a military jet - apparently flown by a pilot who joined Haftar's forces - soared over the eastern city of Darna, known as a stronghold of an extremist group.

    A rebel fighter on the ground said the plane did not attack.

    Missiles hit residential area

    Haftar's base remains in Benghazi, where he first started his campaign and where rebels have attacked and killed government officials, security members and alleged Gaddafi loyalists.

    The city is now divided between Haftar's forces and the powerful armed groups.

    A volley of missiles fired during an exchange between the two sides hit a residential area late on Friday, wounding a man and his wife, hospital official Fadia al-Barghathi said.

    Al-Barghathi also said moderate cleric Saleh Aharaka was killed late on Friday with several bullets to the chest and head. Aharaka was a known critic of radical groups.

    Later on Saturday, a spokesman for Haftar's troops - dubbed the National Libyan Army (NLA) - warned the parliament against trying to convene again. Last week fighters allied with Haftar stormed the General National Congress (GNC) building in Tripoli, and declared the house disbanded.

    "Any attempt to meet or convene the parliament anywhere will be considered a legitimate target," said Jamal Habeel, the NLA spokesman.

    Days later, some Islamist legislators met at an alternative location but failed to approve a new government. The assembly was due to meet again on Sunday.

    Mansour El-Kikhia, an international political expert at the University of Texas in San Antonio, told Al Jazeera that while he doubted Haftar had the support to undertake a coup, his actions were pointless, given that elections were to be held in Libya in the next three to four months anyway.

    "He is undermining the legitimacy of the only organ that this revolution has put into place, which is the GNC," El-Kikhia said.

    SOURCE: Associated Press


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