Libyan lawmakers met in hiding Tuesday, two days after forces loyal to a renegade ex-general stormed the parliament building and demanded that the Islamist-dominated body disband.
One-time general Khalifa Hifter’s offensive against Islamists and their allied militias, launched last week in the eastern city of Benghazi, threatened to escalate into the worst fighting Libya has seen in the 3 years since an uprising ousted and killed Muammar Gadhafi.
It also posed a stark challenge to the weak central government, which has failed in its attempts to establish order.
In an interview published Tuesday in the London-based pan-Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Hiftar defended his actions, declaring that the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the biggest parliamentary blocs, was a “malignancy” that must be eradicated.
The Brotherhood issued a statement denouncing his armed actions but also urging political accommodation.
The former general broke with Gadhafi in the 1990s and fled into exile in the suburbs of Washington before returning home to fight in the 2011 rebellion. He has decried the Islamists who came to political prominence in the wake of Gadhafi’s fall and are backed, like virtually all Libyan political factions, by armed militias.
Hifter had been planning the offensive for the last two years, he told the paper.
The outbreak of chaos in Libya is causing diplomats and foreign businesses alike to reconsider their presence in the energy-rich North African nation.