PM: 'Libyans don't want to be ruled by the military'
Libyan Prime Minister Ahmed Miitig called Wednesday for dialogue among all protagonists in the north African country while affirming that "Libyans don't want to be ruled by the military," referring to a rogue general who has launched an assault against Islamists in Benghazi.
Miitig, an Islamist-backed liberal businessman, was named Libya's new prime minister earlier this month. He is Libya's youngest and fifth prime minister since the country's 2011 uprising against dictator Moamer Gaddafi.
"Libya is going through an ordeal," Miitig told a press conference in capital Tripoli.
He said that the current turmoil in his country is the results of developments in the past three years, but rejected the claim that the "revolutionaries" – who fought against Gaddafi – were the country's problem.
"They are the solution as they support the army and police," he said, going on to call on the Libyans to close ranks to build their country's institutions.
The rogue general, Khalifa Haftar Wednesday urged the country's highest judicial authority "to form a civilian presidential high council tasked with forming an emergency cabinet and organising legislative elections".
Haftar, who was once one of Gaddafi's top generals before falling from grace and going into US exile, was reading a statement broadcast on several Libyan networks.
He returned to support the rebellion in 2011 but has this year emerged as the most serious challenge to the post-Gaddafi authorities born of the rebellion.
Highlighting the seriousness of the security threat, the navy's chief of staff, Rear Admiral Hassan Abu Shnak, his driver and two guards were wounded Wednesday when gunmen attacked his convoy in Tripoli.
Elections will take place
Oil-rich Libya has called an election for June to replace its disputed interim parliament, the General National Council, and try to resolve the power struggle, but violence among militias threatens to scupper the vote.
The electoral commission said the election for the currently Islamist-dominated General National Council would be on June 25.
While some observers doubt it will take place, one Western diplomat told AFP the vote could indeed go ahead.
"The electoral commission has the logistical and human resources needed to organise the elections on schedule," the diplomat said.
The government hopes such a vote could help avoid civil war after Haftar, whom authorities branded an "outlaw," launched an assault Friday on Islamists in Benghazi in which at least 79 people were killed.
Gunmen from the ex-rebel Zintan brigade, saying they back Haftar, stormed parliament on Sunday and set fire to an annex.
Haftar's supporters include an elite special forces unit of the regular army in Benghazi, who have suffered mounting losses in suspected militant attacks in the eastern city.
Police brigades, officers at Tobruk air base and the powerful Al-Baraassa tribe from the east have also declared support for Haftar.
And the chief of staff of Libya's air defence units, Colonel Jomaa al-Abani, told a private television channel he was joining Haftar's offensive, dubbed "Operation Dignity."
It was not known what prompted the attack on the admiral. Abu Shnak was on his way to work when his convoy came under fire, spokesman Colonel Ayub Kassem told AFP.
"He was lightly wounded in the head. A driver and two guards were also wounded, but their injuries are not life threatening."
In the pay of the US
Detractors have accused Haftar of being in the pay of the United States, where he lived in exile for two decades, but Washington has distanced itself from the renegade general.
However the United States is ready to help organise new elections in Libya in hopes of ushering in a more stable government, US officials said Wednesday.
"We're prepared to help support elections preparation from here," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, cautioning that Washington was still waiting for official word from Tripoli.
Washington has a range of tools at its disposal, she said, declining to confirm however whether the US would be prepared to help with security arrangements.
Despite the tensions, the situation was almost normal in Tripoli and Benghazi, where shops, banks and governments were open.