Tripoli airport becomes Libya's new frontline between rival militias

Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:40pm GMT

By Ulf Laessing

TRIPOLI, July 15 (Reuters) - First, there is a single shot. Then Libyan fighters empty their anti-aircraft guns as others crouch for cover at Tripoli International Airport.

Until Saturday night, the airport was a hub for Libyans coming home for the Muslim fasting month and expatriates going on vacation. Now, Libya's main airport has turned into a battlefield between rival militias, a sign of anarchy in the oil producer.

The weak government with its almost non-existent army is appealing for calm but fighters on both sides show no signs of abating in the worst militia clashes in the capital Tripoli since November.

Militiamen from the northwestern region of Zintan are ready to defend the airport that they have protected in the absence of state forces since helping to take Tripoli in August 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi's regime fell.

"The other side has unfortunately decided to use the language of gun," said Mohammed Ramadan, head of the town council of Zintan, which makes up the bulk of fighters.

The other side, accused by the government of attacking the airport area on Sunday, is made up of militias mainly from the coastal city of Misrata, rivals of the Zintanis. Divisions along regional and tribal lines still split the North African country.

The rival militias both claim to work for the sake of stability and accuse each other of abandoning the ideals of the revolution ending Gaddafi's dictatorship.

During the NATO-backed uprising, both set aside their differences but now they are vying for control of Tripoli. The airport 30 km (19 miles) to the south of the capital is the biggest trophy.   Continued...

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