BEIRUT

Middle East

Libya declares state of emergency over unrest in south

A soldier salutes as he stands in a tank during a graduation ceremony for recruits of the Libyan army in Tripoli January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny (LIBYA - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS)

TRIPOLI: Libya's General National Congress declared a state of emergency in the country on Saturday, an official said, after fresh clashes erupted in the south when gunmen group seized a military base.

The GNC, Libya's highest political authority, made the decision during an "extraordinary session" about the situation in the southern town of Sebha, where tribal clashes have been raging for several days, the official said.

Fighting flared up again on Saturday when gunmen took control of a military base near Sebha, after several days of relative quiet, the government said.

But in the evening, defence ministry spokesman Abderrazak al-Shebahi said the army had recaptured the Tamenhant base.

He said the army was tracking the attackers after they fled into the desert.

Government warplanes also launched raids "against certain targets", he added.

The spokesman also said the group was made up of supporters of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was ousted and killed by NATO-backed rebels in October 2011.

"We know them and we are going to track where they are going," he said.

Local sources also said that the group that took over the base was made up of supporters of the ousted regime, to take advantage of the fraught security in the area.

Fighting broke out in Sebha one week ago, pitting gunmen from the Arab Awled Sleiman tribe against tribesmen from the Toubou minority.

At least 30 people were killed in the fighting.

There has been a wave of rumours in recent days on social networks reporting parades by Kadhafi supporters in some town to the west of the capital Tripoli, notably Wershefana and Ajaylat.

Photographs have been posted on some websites, although it has not been possible to verify them.

Pro-Kadhafi television stations based outside of Libya have fuelled the speculation, and Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has warned against spreading the allegations, saying they were aimed at "provoking a crisis in the country".

Zeidan said that the situation was "under control" in Sebha and that he would be sending reinforcements into the city comprising ex-rebels.

Lacking a professional army, the authorities regularly call on groups of ex-rebels who fought the Kadhafi regime in 2011 to fill in for regular security forces.

Local sources said the clashes that started last week were sparked by the death of a militia chief linked to the Awled Sleiman, adding that the tribe accused the Toubou of murdering him.

The Toubou are black oasis farmers by tradition who also live in southern Libya, northern Chad and Niger, who have repeatedly said they were being marginalised.

 

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Summary

Libya's General National Congress declared a state of emergency in the country on Saturday, an official said, after fresh clashes erupted in the south when gunmen group seized a military base.

The GNC, Libya's highest political authority, made the decision during an "extraordinary session" about the situation in the southern town of Sebha, where tribal clashes have been raging for several days, the official said.

Fighting flared up again on Saturday when gunmen took control of a military base near Sebha, after several days of relative quiet, the government said.

But in the evening, defence ministry spokesman Abderrazak al-Shebahi said the army had recaptured the Tamenhant base.

Lacking a professional army, the authorities regularly call on groups of ex-rebels who fought the Kadhafi regime in 2011 to fill in for regular security forces.


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