Libyan capital's airport closes after rocket attack

Tripoli has been at the center of a battle for influence between armed groups with shifting allegiances since Qaddafi was overthrown and killed. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Libyan capital's airport closes after rocket attack

  • There was no immediate claim of responsibility after at least three rockets hit the perimeter of Mitiga International Airport
  • Mitiga airport had only reopened on Friday after it was forced to close for a week because of deadly clashes between rival militias in and around Tripoli

TRIPOLI: The Libyan capital’s only working airport has closed after coming under rocket fire just days after reopening following a UN-backed cease-fire between rival armed groups vying for influence in the country.

The Tuesday night attack underscored the fragility of the latest peace push in Libya, which has been beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Several rockets hit the perimeter of Mitiga International Airport on the eastern outskirts of Tripoli without causing any casualties.

Flights were diverted to Misrata, some 200 kilometers  east of the capital, the civil aviation authority said.

Mitiga airport had only reopened on Friday after it was forced to close for a week because of deadly clashes between rival militias in and around Tripoli.

The fighting has killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — since August 27, dousing hopes of elections being held this year.

The UN brokered cease-fire announced on Sept. 4 has largely been respected but witnesses reported brief clashes in the south of the capital on Tuesday night.

That deal includes “radical measures” to restore security in the capital which should be applied from Wednesday, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday, UNSMIL said on Twitter that a “special meeting” was taking place on security arrangements for Tripoli.

It was attended by the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez Al-Sarraj, as well as military commanders from across western Libya and UN envoy Ghassan Salame.

UNSMIL said the meeting was tackling “how best to consolidate the ... cease-fire agreement and the establishment of a monitoring and verification committee.”

It also said the meeting was focusing on “the formation of a committee on security arrangements.”

Thousands of families have fled the violence to nearby towns or have had to seek shelter in other districts of Tripoli, authorities have said.

Several rockets had already struck near the airport last month, forcing authorities to divert all flights to Misrata on that occasion too.

A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 establishing the GNA brought hopes of an easing of the chaos that followed Libya’s 2011 revolution.

But divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east and refuses to recognize the administration’s authority.

Tripoli has been at the center of a battle for influence between armed groups with shifting allegiances since Qaddafi was overthrown and killed.

The UN Panel of Experts on Libya said in a letter to the Security Council on Sept. 5 that armed groups have “increased their influence over Libyan State institutions, promoting their own political and economic interests.”

“The use of violence to take control of State infrastructure and institutions — and threats and attacks against public servants — are widespread across the country and are particularly noticeable in Tripoli,” it said.

Mitiga airport, a former military air base, has been a civilian airport since Tripoli’s main international airport was badly damaged in fighting between rival militias in 2014.

Since then only Libyan airlines have operated in the country, running internal flights and regular connections to a handful of nations, including Tunisia and Turkey.

Libyan airlines are banned from European Union airspace for “security reasons.”

On Wednesday, France’s ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre said his country believes it “essential” that presidential and legislative elections take place in Libya on Dec. 10, in line with a timetable agreed in May.

Extremist groups and people traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold in Libya.

The Daesh group claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide attack a day earlier against the headquarters of Libya’s National Oil Corporation which killed two employees.

On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on the leader of a militia in Libya for attacks on the country's oil facilities.

The US said Ibrahim Jadhran’s attacks "robbed the Libyan people of billions of dollars in oil revenue."

Wednesday's action is part of a push to take forceful action against "rogue criminals and militia forces who undermine peace and security."


Tunisia reforms face fresh strain after president ends political tie-up

Updated 4 min 43 sec ago
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Tunisia reforms face fresh strain after president ends political tie-up

  • Efforts to rescue Tunisia's ailing economy face the prospect of fresh turmoil
  • The Ennahda party and Nidaa Tounes agreed in 2014 on a constitution granting far-reaching political rights

TUNIS: Efforts to rescue Tunisia’s ailing economy face the prospect of fresh turmoil after the president declared his alliance with the Ennahda party at an end, deepening divisions in a fragile coalition managing the country’s transition from autocracy.

The Ennahda party and Nidaa Tounes agreed in 2014 on a constitution granting far-reaching political rights, limiting the role of religion and holding free elections, which stands out in a region often run by autocrats.

But Tunisia fell into a political crisis again this year after Essebsi’s son, who is the leader of Nidaa Tounes, called for the dismissal of prime minister Youssef Chahed because of his government’s failure to revive the economy.
His demand was supported by the powerful UGTT union, which rejected economic reforms proposed by Chahed.

Political analysts say Monday evening’s announcement by President Beji Caid Essebsi could make it difficult for the government to enact tough economic reforms sought by international lenders.

“There will be no real risk of toppling the government in parliament, but the problem is that division will deepen, social tension will rise and reforms are threatened under a fragile government coalition,” Nizar Makni, a journalist and analyst said.

“Reforms need broad consensus and the lack of compromise may lead to mass protests in the streets, especially that powerful unions rejected all proposed reforms”, he added.

Although struggling with high unemployment and inflation, the coalition of political parties has been running what has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success, avoiding the upheaval seen in Egypt, Libya or Syria.​

AUSTERITY

But Ennahda came to Chahed’s defence, saying the departure of the prime minister would hit stability at a time when the country needed economic reforms.
In his more than two years in office, Chahed has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms, such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.
The president raised the stakes on Monday evening.
“The consensus and relationship between me and Ennahha has ended, after they chose to form another relationship with Youssef Chahed,” Essebsi, the founder of Nidaa Tounes, said in a televised interview.
Analysts said the president’s announcement would probably not lead to the overthrow of the government, which still has the support of at least 110 of a total 217 lawmakers in parliament.
But Chahed could find it difficult to enact tough reforms in the face of a strong opposition front including the unions, the president and Nidaa Tounes party.
Last week the UGTT labour union called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest at Chahed’s privatisation plans.
“The president’s comments will deepen the crisis,” senior Ennahda official Lotfi Zitoun told Reuters.
“Ennahda seeks stability and a dialogue that includes all partners to get out of the crisis.”
By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since its Arab Spring democratic revolution in 2011.
Chahed has gathered enough support in parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with Ennahda and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels.
Since 2011 uprising, nine cabinets have failed to resolve Tunisia’s economic problems, which include high inflation and unemployment, and impatience is rising among lenders such as the IMF, which have kept the country afloat.