Libya sets no-fly zone over Benghazi to curb militant clashes   2014-05-18 01:45:15            

BENGHAZI, May 17 (Xinhua) -- The Libyan interim government on Saturday set up a no-fly zone in an attempt to calm down the militant clashes in Benghazi, as militia leader Khalifa Haftar declared to continue his assault.

The decision came after a day of fierce fighting between Haftar 's militia and some Islamist armed groups left at least 37 people dead and around 140 injured.

Haftar, a retired major general, led his self-proclaimed " national army" into Libya's second largest city Benghazi at dawn on Friday, shelling many Islamist militant bases, including Ansar Al-Sharia's and February 17 Brigade's compound.

Witnesses said helicopters and warplanes were used. Although the Libyan army denied any involvement in the clashes, an army high command later admitted that some officers and units had participated in the action.

Local media reports said that Haftar withdrew most of his troops out of Benghazi on Saturday, but he said fighting will continue and thus called on citizens in southern Benghazi to evacuate. He added that air strikes might take place to eliminate some targets.

Haftar said his maneuver was to purge the city from "terrorists ", but the interim government defined it as a "coup" and asked him to have self-control and "resist any temptation to intrude."

Libya's Chief of Staff Abdessalem Jadallah al-Salihin also announced that the army "opposes any armed group that tries to control Benghazi by armed force."

Some analysts and military sources said that the clashes were the fiercest one since the 2011 turmoil which toppled Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi, and that Haftar's attack might be backed by some local tribal leaders and the eastern separatists.

Benghazi was the birthplace of the 2011 protests against Gaddafi. The city has witnessed a drastic escalation of violence and become a major extremist base in North Africa since the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed in 2012.

Libya's interim government has failed to confiscate the weapons and ammos spread all over the country, leaving a major threat to the public security.

Editor: yan
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