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UN-backed Libyan government accuses Khalifa Haftar of staging 'coup'

UN, US and Russia say they reject Haftar's decision to abandon the 2015 political agreement for Libya
Haftar claimed late on Monday that he has a 'popular mandate' to govern Libya (AFP/File photo)

The UN-recognised Libyan government has accused Khalifa Haftar of staging a "coup" after the military commander, who controls most of the eastern part of the North African country, claimed to have a "popular mandate" to govern Libya.

"It's a farce and the latest in a long series of coups d'etat," the Government of National Accord (GNA) said in a statement early on Tuesday.

Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army has been pushing for months to capture the capital Tripoli, where the GNA is based, in a battle that has displaced more than 150,000 people

In a video message late on Monday, Haftar announced abandoning the 2015 UN-sponsored agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco that produced the national unity government of the GNA.

"We announce our acceptance of the people's will and mandate, and the end of the Skhirat Agreement," he said.

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"The political agreement destroyed the country. We will work to create the conditions for building permanent civic institutions."

'Masks have fallen'

Libya has seen civil unrest and a prolonged governance crisis since a NATO-backed armed uprising toppled and killed the country's previous ruler, long-time autocrat Muammar Gaddafi. 

Haftar, a former general who served under Gaddafi and resided in the United States prior to the 2011 uprising, has emerged as a key player in the unrest. Backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and France, the field marshal has created his own army and overran large swathes of land under the premise of fighting terrorism.

His announcement on Monday appears to outline his plan to discard negotiations and take over the entire country. 

Khalifa Haftar declares himself ruler of Libya with 'mandate' from the people
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"Today all the fake masks have fallen off the few military men who have a regressive coup mentality that does not believe in democracy and cannot contribute to building a modern civil state," GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha wrote on Twitter late on Monday.

For her part, acting UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams held a phone call with GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, saying that the 2015 political agreement still stands and remains as the "sole internationally recognised framework of governance in Libya as per UN Security Council Resolutions".

"Williams renewed her call for an immediate humanitarian pause during #Ramadan, paving the way for a lasting ceasefire," the UN Support Mission in Libya said on Twitter.

US, Russia react

Russia's Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday that Moscow does not back Haftar's latest announcement. It quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that Russia does not have leverage over the Libyan general.

"We have contact with all the actors in the Libyan conflict, without exception," Lavrov said.

Washington also rejected Haftar's move, saying that it "regrets" his nixing of the 2015 agreement.

"The United States regrets LNA commander Haftar’s suggestion that changes to #Libya’s political structure can be imposed by unilateral declaration and reiterates the call for an immediate humanitarian cessation hostilities," the US embassy in Libya said in a statement.

Although the US officially backs the GNA, Tripoli has accused Western powers of covertly backing the renegade general.

Last year, after Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Haftar, the White House said in a statement that the US president "recognised Field Marshall Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources".

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