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Benghazi death toll rises to 70 as Libyan forces battle militias

Benghazi is the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled Libya's late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi

By: Associated Press | Tripoli |
Updated: May 18, 2014 4:04:33 pm
libya-militia-48 A militia stands guard in front of the entrance camp after Libyan irregular forces clashed with them in the eastern city of Benghazi May 16, 2014. (Reuters)

The death toll from fighting over the weekend in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi between troops loyal to a rogue general and Islamist militias has risen to 70, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

It said 141 people were also injured in the fighting, which broke out on Friday.

Benghazi, birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, was quiet on Sunday, but its airport remained closed for the second successive day.

Libya’s weak central government describes the offensive, which began Friday by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, and included air support, as tantamount to a coup. The violence there showed how precarious government control remains three years after the 2011 civil war that toppled Gadhafi.

Libya’s military banned flights on Saturday over Benghazi and said in a statement that it would target any military aircraft flying over the city, where the uprising against Gadhafi began.

In a statement late Saturday, Libya’s interim prime minister, parliament speaker and the head of military warned Hifter against further pursuing his offensive and threatened the troops cooperating with him.

In a joint statement read by parliament speaker Nouri Abu Sahmein they accused Hifter of using the rise in violence in Benghazi to “pursue personal gains or turn against the state legitimacy.” They also said Hifter is a wanted by the country’s military prosecutor.

Hifter, however, vowed to press on with his campaign in Benghazi to restore security, charging that the current interim Cabinet has no mandate. In comments to the press aired on television, Hifter said: “Today is the start of a national battle. It is not a coup, it is not a quest for authority.”

He added: “All Libyan blood is sacred but the terrorism and its servants wanted a battle.”

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