Libyan army asks civilians to leave parts of Benghazi

The call comes as the Libyan National Army prepares to launch a fresh attack on Islamist militants

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The self-declared Libyan National Army (LNA) led by a renegade general told civilians on Saturday to leave parts of Benghazi before it launched a fresh attack on Islamist militants, a day after dozens were killed in the worst clashes in the city for months, according to Reuters news agency.

Families could be seen packing up and driving away from western districts of the port city where Islamist militants and LNA forces led by retired General Khalifa Haftar fought for hours on Friday.

Dressed in military uniform, Haftar, who was accused by the speaker of
Parliament of plotting a coup, said his troops had temporarily withdrawn from Benghazi for tactical reasons.

“We'll come back with force,” he told reporters at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi, Reuters reported.

“We've started this battle and will continue it until we have reached our goals,” he added.

Both the government and parliament had no legitimacy as they had failed to achieve security, Haftar said.

“The street and the Libyan people are with us,” he said, adding that his troops were spread out in several parts of eastern Libya.

Meanwhile, in Tripoli parliamentary speaker and military commander-in-chief Nuri Abu Sahmain said Hafter was trying to stage a coup.

“(LNA) members who have carried out the clashes in Benghazi are out of the control of the state of Libya and they are trying to attempt a coup for their own interests,” Abu Sahmain said in a televised news conference.

“All those who took part in this coup bid will be prosecuted,” he added, according to Agence France-Presse.

The death toll had risen to 70, with more than 100 wounded, according to a Health Ministry official. Haftar said 60 militants and six of his soldiers were killed, and 250 militants and 37 of his men wounded.

On Saturday, authorities extended the closure of Benghazi's Benina airport.

EgyptAir halted flights to Benghazi until the security situation improved, an Egyptian security official said.

The Libyan army declared a no-fly zone after Haftar's forces used at least one helicopter during Friday's fighting.

(With Reuters and AFP)