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Coronavirus: Libya's UN-backed government imposes curfew

Despite recording no cases of the virus so far, restaurants, cafes and party halls to be closed
Libyans sit at Martyrs' Square in the capital Tripoli (AFP)

Libya's UN-recognised government has become the latest administration to impose a lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) declared a night-time curfew and closure of public spaces starting on Sunday to keep the virus out of areas it controls.

In a statement on Saturday, the government said the curfew would begin at 6pm and end at 6am.

It also ordered the closure of restaurants, cafes and party halls and banned funeral and wedding ceremonies.

Libya, which has been mired in chaos since the 2011 overthrow of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi, is divided between forces loyal to the GNA and those of Khalifa Haftar, a military commander who backs a rival administration in the country's east. 

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Pro-Haftar forces, which in April launched an assault to seize the capital Tripoli where the GNA is based, imposed their own night-time curfew on Thursday in areas under their control.

Libya has not recorded any cases of the Covid-19 disease, but experts fear an outbreak could be catastrophic due to the country's degraded health system.

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Saturday joined those expressing concern and urged both GNA and Haftar forces to observe a truce in their deadly fighting in and around Tripoli.

"Given the already dire humanitarian situation in Libya and the possible impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General calls on the parties to join forces to address the threat and to ensure unhindered access of humanitarian aid throughout the country," a statement said.

A fragile truce went into force on 12 January, but fighting has continued, with each side blaming the other for starting it.

Earlier this week, the GNA and Haftar's forces welcomed calls for a humanitarian pause in the fighting made by the UN and several countries, although the GNA said it reserved "the right to respond to daily assaults targeting civilians and public facilities".

The UN statement said Guterres hopes the "positive" responses by the warring sides in Libya "will be translated into an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities... [and] a lasting ceasefire".

Since April last year, the fighting has left more than 1,000 people dead and around 150,000 displaced.

Five women were killed on Wednesday in strikes carried out by pro-Haftar forces, according to the GNA, while on Saturday sporadic bombardment could be heard from the centre of Tripoli.