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US readies marines to evacuate staff from Libya

(AFP) – The United States is deploying an amphibious assault ship with about 1000 marines off the coast of Libya in case the US embassy has to be evacuated, a US defence official says. The USS Bataan was to be in the area “in a matter of days,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The move was described as “precautionary” in case conditions in Libya, where militia battles have plunged the country into anarchy, worsen and require the embassy’s evacuation.

The State Department said last week the embassy in Tripoli was operating normally despite an offensive launched against Islamist militias by a dissident general, Khalifa Haftar.

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Vehicles with heavy artillery of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building  (Photo AP)

Meanwhile, armed men attacked the home of the country’s new prime minister, two days after he won a parliamentary vote of confidence but with opposition to his proposed government rising.

Libya’s General National Congress, or interim parliament, had elected 42-year-old businessman Ahmed Miitig as premier in a chaotic vote this month to replace Abdallah al-Thani, who had resigned for security reasons.

“There was an attack with rockets and small arms on the prime minister’s house” in Tripoli at 3am, an aide to Miitig said on condition of anonymity.

Revolt by rogue general against Islamists splits Libya’s militias

TRIPOLI, Libya — A revolt by a renegade general against Islamists who dominate Libya’s politics threatened to spiral into an outright battle for power that could fragment the North African nation as the country’s numerous armed militias on Monday started to line up behind the rival camps.

Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who lived for years in exile in the United States during the rule of autocrat Moammar Gadhafi, touts himself as a nationalist who is waging a war against terrorism to save Libya from Islamic extremists. His loyalists and allies in the past days attacked Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and on Sunday stormed the Islamist-led parliament in Tripoli.

Hifter’s opponents accuse him of seeking to grab power, acting on behalf of former regime figures in exile by orchestrating an Egyptian-style military overthrow of Islamists that would wreck already struggling attempts at democracy.

In response to the parliament attack, the Islamist-leaning head of the legislature, Nouri Abu Sahmein, ordered militias backing his camp to deploy in Tripoli on Monday to resist what he called “the attempt to wreck the path of democracy and take power.”

The pro-parliament militias are largely from Libya’s third largest city of Misrata, one of Islamists’ biggest constituencies. Footage posted online by Misrata forces showed hundreds of pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, tanks and armoured vehicles it said were ready to move into the capital.

Hifter also draws strong backing in the eastern part of the country, especially Benghazi, where many demand autonomy from the central government and where anger at Islamists is high. Suspected extremist militias have been killing military and police officials, judges, activists and clerics in the city almost daily for months.

In Benghazi, a lawyer prominent in the city said there is general public backing there for Hifter because he is seen as a figure who “can rescue them from terrorism.” But the lawyer said he personally worries that after defeating Islamists, Hifter would become a new Gadhafi.

US sends assault ship with 1,000 Marines near Libya, asks Americans to ‘depart immediately’

(RT) – The State Department said last week that its embassy in Tripoli was operating as usual despite offensives launched by a dissident general, Khalifa Haftar, against the Libyan parliament and Islamist factions.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Zahawi, the head of Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia militant group in Benghazi, warned against any US interference in the nation’s ongoing tumult. Zahawi accused the US government of backing General Haftar, a “new Gaddafi,” and an “agent of American intelligence.”

“We remind America, if they intervene, of their defeats in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, because they would face in Libya something much worse,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “It was America who urged Haftar to turn the country towards war and bloodshed.”

The State Department has denied any role in Haftar’s recent offensives despite accusations that the US is encouraging the senior military official. Haftar previously spent decades in the US before returning to Libya in 2011 to join rebels fighting the regime of then-president Muammar Gaddafi.

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