Tripoli and Benghazi in smoke as rival militias fight for control of Libya

Tripoli and Benghazi in smoke as rival militias fight for control of Libya

Heavy black smoke rose over southern Tripoli on Thursday after rival militias exchanged artillery and rocket fire in a battle over the Libyan capital’s airport that has killed more than 50 people in nearly a fortnight of fighting.

At least nine people were killed and 19 wounded, mostly civilians, in heavy clashes overnight in Benghazi as government forces tried to oust Islamist militants holed up in Libya’s eastern port city, medical sources said on Thursday.

Fighting between rival militia for control of the Libyan capital’s airport has left at least 47 dead in the worst clashes in six months. It has also led to the evacuation of oil expatriates and prevented some staff reaching a key oil field denting production there.

Sporadic blasts echoed across the city from the morning in clashes that have deepened fears of post-war Libya becoming a failed state, with a fragile government unable to control heavily armed brigades battling for power.

Two main rival militias in Tripoli exchanged fire with Grad rockets, shells and anti-aircraft cannons for control of the main airport, shutting down most international flights and prompting the United Nations to pull its staff out of Libya.

Fighting in the capital and the eastern city of Benghazi is the heaviest since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. It has closed most international flights to Libya and has prompted the United States to pull out embassy staff.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday Turkey may evacuate its embassy in Tripoli, a day after his ministry advised all Turkish citizens to leave the North African country due to the worsening security situation.

The fighting has also taken a toll on Libya’s fragile oil industry. The significant El-Feel oil field has reduced production due to the clashes and total output slipped around 20 percent to 450,000 barrels per on Monday.

Western powers hope the formation of a new parliament in August after a legislative election in June will open the way for the factions to forge a political settlement over the new government.

The previous parliament, known as the General National Congress, was caught up in deadlock between Islamist and nationalist factions, and blamed by many Libyans for their country’s fragile progress to democracy. Read more about the story here.

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