Gunmen storm Libya’s UN-backed government in attempted coup

No blood shed in the failed coup, but it is another setback for Government of National Accord struggling to exert authority over all Libya.

 Members of the forces loyal to Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) gather in the coastal city of Sirte, east of the capital Tripoli, during their military operation to clear ISIL from the city, on October 14, 2016.  Mahmud Turkia / AFP
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CAIRO // The UN-backed Government of National Accord has suffered a fresh setback to its attempts to exert authority in Libya after gunmen seized its offices in Tripoli.

In a so far bloodless coup attempt, militia units stormed the city centre Rixos hotel, a base for the GNA’s advisory assembly, the High Council of State, on Friday evening and proclaimed support for a rival body, the National Salvation Government.

The United Nations’ envoy to Libya Martin Kobler condemned the latest challenge to the GNA, warning it would sow “further disorder and insecurity”.

The European Union External Action Service, which provides aid projects to Libya, also objected to “the use of force to seize power”.

In a surprise attack, the militias confronted GNA security units outside the Rixos. After a standoff lasting several hours, the security forces retreated, allowing the militias and leaders of the coup attempt to enter the hotel and an adjacent administration complex.

Coup leader Khalifa Ghwail, a former Salvation Government premier, declared in a statement that the GNA was now “an illegal executive authority” as TV stations broadcast images of the plotters, flanked by soldiers, across Libya.

Mr Ghwail proclaimed the return of authority to the National Salvation Government, which lost power in the capital following the arrival of the GNA in March.

His statement added that forces loyal to the Salvation Government were mobilised to enforce security.

The GNA’s ruling presidential council (PC), which was in Tunis at the time, issued its own statement ordering loyalist security forces to arrest those responsible. “The head of the PC, Fayez Al Serraj, ordered the interior ministry’s security apparatuses to contact with the Tripoli-based attorney general and immediately arrest all those who plotted for the coup and those who are looking for [sic] forming parallel governments.”

The coup attempt adds a further twist to Libya’s already bewildering chaos. While the Salvation Government and GNA are now struggling for domination of Tripoli, both are rivals to the House of Representatives parliament (HOR) in the eastern town of Tobruk.

The HOR has not commented on the coup, but its MPs have twice this year rejected a cabinet of ministers proposed by the GNA.

Mr Al Serraj, the GNA prime minister, was in Tunis with the presidential council on Friday to try to agree on a third cabinet to put before the HOR.

The political struggle takes place amid a background of continuing violence across much of the country.

GNA forces reported 14 dead and more than 20 wounded on Friday in an continuing operation to capture the Libya headquarters of ISIL at Sirte, a battle that has seen the US bomb more than 155 militant targets in the past week. After five months of fighting, backed by US air strikes, Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed government in Tripoli are close to clearing out the last remnants of the extremist group from the hometown of the former leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Heavy street fighting in the Ghiza Bahriya area involved tanks and armoured vehicles with heavy machine guns, as well as air strikes to retake houses occupied by ISIL, according to military officials.

“There was an incursion on Friday made by Bonyan Marsous forces into Ghiza Bahriya,” said Ahmad Hadia, one of the spokesmen for pro-government forces who are mainly from the city of Misurata. “A car bomb was hit by warplanes of our forces.”

Meanwhile, General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the HOR’s Libya National Army, is continuing a struggle backed by air strikes against extremist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The coup attempt has come despite Libya receiving a boost to the economy with a doubling of oil production from two months ago to 500,000 barrels per day, after Gen Haftar’s forces captured four key oil ports from a pro-GNA militia on September 11.