World Bulletin/News Desk
The Libyan army declared on Saturday a no-fly zone over the city of Benghazi and its outskirts until further notice.
In a statement, the chief of staff threatened that army forces and its affiliated militias will "target" any violating warplane.
This came after aircraft from Benina airbase participated in an attack mounted Friday by forces loyal to former Libyan army commander Khalifa Haftar againt army-affiliated militias in Benghazi, leaving 46 people killed and 136 injured on both sides.
Haftar's irregular forces had engaged in deadly fighting with the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade, which was absorbed into the Libyan army following the 2011 ouster and death of late leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Haftar's forces recently launched a campaign in Benghazi dubbed "Libya's Dignity," the stated aim of which is to "purge" the province of "rogue militias."
Although the Rafallah al-Sahati militia was absorbed into the Libyan army, Benghazi residents continue to accuse its members of backing armed extremist groups.
In February, Haftar – who played a key role in the 2011 uprising – prompted fears of a military coup when he appeared on television in military uniform to demand the dissolution of Libya's parliament and interim government.
He had also claimed his forces had seized control of several military and strategic sites around the country.
The Libyan army at the time quickly refuted Haftar's claims, affirming that it remained in full control of all army barracks and military units throughout the country.
Libyan authorities have struggled to restore law and order since Gaddafi's ouster and death in 2011 amid the continued refusal of armed militias – which helped overthrow the late leader – to give up their weapons.
Authorities extended the closure of Benghazi's Benina airport on Saturday. Egyptair halted flights to Benghazi until the security situation improved, an Egyptian security official said.
Families could be seen packing up and driving away from western districts of the port city where militants and LNA forces led by retired General Khalifa Haftar fought for hours on Friday.
Dressed in military uniform, Hafter - whom the speaker of parliament accused of plotting a coup - said his troops had temporarily withdrawn from Benghazi for tactical reasons.
"We'll come back with force," he told reporters at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi.
"We've started this battle and will continue it until we have reached our goals," he said.
He said government and parliament had no legitimacy as they had failed to achieve security. "The street and the Libyan people are with us," he said, adding that his troops were spread out in several parts of eastern Libya.
In Tripoli, parliamentary speaker and military commander-in-chief Nuri Abu Sahmain said Hafter was trying to stage a coup.
"(LNA) members who have carried out the clashes in Benghazi are out of the control of the state of Libya and they are trying to attempt a coup for their own interests," Abu Sahmain said in a televised news conference.
A Health Ministry official said the death toll had risen to 43, with more than 100 wounded. Haftar said 60 militants and six of his soldiers were killed, and 250 militants and 37 of his men wounded.
Libyan news website Ajwa Belad said late on Saturday 75 people had been killed and 141 wounded, citing official data.
A worker in a hospital that received at least 40 corpses said: "More bodies are coming in from areas outside Benghazi."
Haftar, a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that ousted Gaddafi, stirred rumours of a coup in February by appearing in military uniform to call for a presidential committee to be formed to govern until new elections.
Libya's government is fragile and the parliament almost paralysed by rivalries, with little progress to full democracy made since 2011. A planned new constitution is still unwritten and the country is on its third prime minister since March.
U.S. and European countries are helping build up the regular army but Libya's armed forces and government cannot control the brigades of ex-rebels and militants who once fought Gaddafi.
The North African nation's vital oil industry has suffered badly and is often targeted by armed protesters seeking a greater share of oil wealth, federalist power for the regions or just better basic services.
Since last summer, armed protesters have repeatedly closed down ports and oilfields, bringing production down to around 200,000 barrels per day from the 1.4 million bpd that the OPEC member state produced before the protests eruptedGüncelleme Tarihi: 18 Mayıs 2014, 09:59