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Fighting rips through Libyan capital, killing 13

Members of the "444 Brigade" affiliated with Libya's Ministry of Defence man positions in the area of an overnight gunbattle in Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara, on Friday. - AFP
Members of the "444 Brigade" affiliated with Libya's Ministry of Defence man positions in the area of an overnight gunbattle in Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara, on Friday. - AFP

TRIPOLI: Rival factions fought each other in Tripoli overnight and into Friday, killing 13 people in the Libyan capital's worst clashes for two years during a dangerous political standoff.

Fighters exchanged fire in a central district where several government and international agencies, along with diplomatic missions, are based, and clashes spread to the areas of Ain Zara and Asbaa.

The main sides involved were both affiliated to the Presidency Council, a three-person body acting as transitional head of state. They included the RADA force, an Interior Ministry spokesperson said.

Fighters from RADA, one of the most powerful forces in Tripoli, were visible around most central areas on Friday morning, while the main Presidency Council building was empty.

Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency Services spokesperson Osama Ali said 13 people were confirmed dead and 27 injured. A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said three of the dead were civilians. A witness at a hospital said he had seen six bodies.

The shooting began efore midnight and lasted for hours. By midday, the situation was mostly calm in central Tripoli, where some vehicles were burned out and others pocked with bullet hole.

But there were many fighters in the city centre and a Reuters journalist heard further exchanges of fire in Tripoli's southern suburbs, where the telecom company said mobile connections were down due to the unrest.

A security source and a passenger at Tripoli's main Mitiga airport said flights were being rerouted to the airport at Misrata, about two hours drive from the capital.

Libya has been teetering on the edge of chaos for months after the eastern-based parliament rejected the unity government in Tripoli, which was installed through a UN-backed process last year, and appointed a rival administration.

It was not clear how far Friday's clashes were linked to the wider political problems, but both prime ministers have support from among the armed factions that control territory in the capital and other western Libyan cities.

The parliament-appointed prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, has been unable to move into Tripoli because groups in the capital backing the Government of National Unity (GNU) there and its prime minister, Abdulhamid al Dbeibah, have prevented his entry.

Over recent weeks, political shifts have pointed to a possible realignment among power brokers and armed factions that could prompt renewed fighting.

The biggest protests for years occurred earlier this month in cities across Libya controlled by rival factions, underscoring popular anger over the lack of elections and poor state services.

Afterwards, factions in several cities detained people suspected of involvement, prompting the UN Libya mission to express concern on Thursday. - Reuters

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