TRIPOLI: Thousands of demonstrators rallied Friday in support of a rogue former general whose forces have launched a “dignity” campaign to crush jihadist militias in eastern Libya.
Ex-general Khalifa Haftar has garnered growing support amid frustration at the lawlessness in Libya three years after the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
“Yes to dignity,” read banners carried by demonstrators at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli.
Thousands more pro-Haftar demonstrators gathered outside Tibesti Hotel in the eastern city of Benghazi, a stronghold of the Islamists, and in Baida, further east.
“Yes to the army, yes to the police,” their banners read. “No to militias, Libya will not become another Afghanistan.”
On Wednesday, Haftar warned that Libya has become a “terrorist hub” and called for the formation of an emergency cabinet and legislative elections to be held.
His forces launched an assault against jihadists on May 16 in the Mediterranean city of Benghazi, birthplace of the 2011 uprising against Gadhafi, in which at least 79 people were reported killed.
That prompted the government to brand him an outlaw and claim he was attempting a coup.
But Haftar insists he has no interest in power, just an end to the Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC), or interim parliament.
On Sunday, forces that support Haftar attacked and set fire to part of the GNC building in Tripoli.
Libya’s interim authorities have since set elections for June 25.
Voicing alarm over the chaos and violence a month before elections, Western powers on Friday issued a joint appeal for a peaceful transition in the North African nation.
Britain, France and the United States — the three powers who led the NATO-backed attacks that ousted Gadhafi– urged a “peaceful and democratic” transition, in a statement also signed by Germany, Italy and the EU.
The Western powers, “deeply concerned by the repeated acts of violence, call on all sides to refrain from the use of force and to address differences by political means,” it read.
“Persistent divisions amongst Libyans will gravely challenge the ability of the international community to assist Libya,” they warned.
On Thursday, the Libyan government urged militias to withdraw from the capital after the embattled GNC had sought help from ex-rebel fighters.
But calm returned Friday after dignitaries from two rival regions — supportive and opposing the GNC — brokered a compromise to prevent armed clashes in Tripoli.