Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Libya: Update--Tripoli, Benghazi Remains Unstable as Islamists, Moderates Jockey for Position

According to Reuters, at least two people were killed when heavy fighting erupted near the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Wednesday (May 21), two days after gunmen stormed Parliament in some of the city's worst violence since the 2011 war.

Heavy fighting involving anti-aircraft batteries also broke out near an army camp in Tajoura, an eastern suburb of the capital.

In addition, Libya's top naval commander, General Hasssan Abu Shanaq, survived an assassination attempt by unknown gunmen as he was travelling to work, a spokesman for the chief of staff said.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, gunmen killed a Chinese engineer on Tuesday (May 20) after kidnapping him from his project site and then dumping his body, according to a security source in the eastern city.

The engineer was one of three colleagues at a Chinese construction company who were all abducted from a worksite, the Chinese Embassy said on Wednesday, according to China's official press agency, Xinhua.  One of the engineer was shot and killed, while his colleagues were released, presumably after the payment of a ransom.

Militants in Benghazi have targeted foreigners in the past, including an attack on the US Consulate on September 11, 2012, in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other official Americans were killed.

COMMENT: I continue to urge foreign travelers to defer travel to Libya until such time as the country is stabilized. Tourists should continue to avoid the country. Period.

Since Libya's 2011 war ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule, the country's new institutions have struggled to gain popular backing and to make progress towards democracy. The central government has been unable to control the brigades and militias who helped topple Gaddafi. 

Tripoli has been calmer in the past two days, after militiamen stormed the General National Congress (GNC), Libya's Parliament, on Sunday (May 18) and fought for six hours with other armed groups on the airport road. The militiamen claimed loyalty to former army general Khalifa Haftar.

On Friday, Haftar started what he called a military campaign against Islamist militants in Benghazi. He also later claimed responsibility for the attack on Parliament in the capital.

Haftar and other militias have demanded that Parliament step down.