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Libyan gunmen storm parliament building

The self-declared Libyan National Army demands the GNC hand over power to a body drafting a new constitution

Published: Updated:

Forces apparently loyal to rogue Libyan general Khalifa Hafter called Sunday for suspending the General National Congress, Libya’s parliament, after the legislature was stormed by gunmen earlier in the day.

The self-declared Libyan National Army, which is apparently siding with Hafter, also demanded the GNC hand over power to a body drafting a new constitution and rejected the recent appointment of Ahmed Maiteeq as prime minister.

The announcement, made in a statement read on television channel Al-Ahrar, came hours after troops loyal to Hafter claimed they had stormed the GNC building, in an attack the details of which remain unclear.

Reuters said heavy smoke rose from the building as gunmen clashed with guards.

One of the agency’s reporters said the attackers raided and left, and other unknown gunmen later closed off nearby streets.

Another witness told the agency that the attackers kidnapped two people and heavy gunfire could be heard across other parts of Tripoli.

In a statement to Al Hadath, Al Arabiya News Channel’s sister channel, the group said it had “detained” Nouri Abu Sahmain, the head of the parliament, as well as six lawmakers.

Mohammed al-Hegazi, Haftar’s spokesman, told Libya's Al-Ahrar television station earlier in the day that Islamist lawmakers and officials were the intended target of the attack.

Haftar, a retired Libyan general who spent years exiled in the United States, has vowed to purge the country of Islamist militants.

Libya's parliament has been paralyzed by divisions between Islamist parties and more nationalist rivals. Many Libyans blame the congress for their failure to progress toward democratic transition since the fall of veteran ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Colonel Mokhtar Farnana, speaking on behalf of the Libyan National Army during a broadcast on Al-Ahrar, said troops loyal to Hafter had stormed the parliament, insisting the attack was not a coup but "fighting by the people's choice."

Farnana said a group led by Hafter had assigned a 60-member constituent's assembly to take over for parliament.

He also said Libya's current government would act on an emergency basis but did not elaborate.

"We announce to the world that the country can't be a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism," said Farnana, who wore a military uniform and stood in front of Libya's flag.

Libya's interim government had no immediate comment on the broadcast. It was not immediately clear where Farnana spoke from.

The unrest in Tripoli came after more than 70 people were killed on Friday in clashes between irregular army forces and Islamist militants in Benghazi, the main city in the volatile east.

On Saturday, Hafter told journalists he would press on with his Benghazi offensive, despite warnings by the central government that cooperating troops would be tried.

(With Reuters and AP)