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."


Yemen central bank nearly doubles interest rate to halt riyal plunge

Yemen’s currency has halved in value against the US dollar since the start of a civil war in 2014. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 September 2018
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Yemen central bank nearly doubles interest rate to halt riyal plunge

  • Yemen’s currency has halved in value against the US dollar since the start of a civil war in 2014
  • The United Nations says more than 8 millions Yemenis are at risk of famine

ADEN: Yemen’s central bank, based in territory controlled by its exiled government, nearly doubled its interest rate on Wednesday in an effort to stabilise the riyal after violent demonstrations against a plunging currency.

State news agency Saba said the rate on certificates of deposit had been hiked to 27 percent. An official at the bank said the previous rate had been 15 percent for the past four years.

Yemen’s currency has halved in value against the US dollar since the start of a civil war in 2014, when the capital was captured by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the government fled.

Most Yemenis now live in Houthi-controlled territory, while the government of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi controls the south, backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab troops.

Saba said the central bank also raised the interest rate on government bonds to 17 percent. It did not say what the previous rate was.

The effect of the rate decision is difficult to forecast in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country, where inflation has hit record highs and many traders prefer a safer Saudi riyal.

The United Nations says more than 8 millions Yemenis are at risk of famine, requiring the world’s most urgent relief effort.

The plunge in the currency and soaring inflation sparked violent demonstrations in the government-held south earlier this month.

The banking system still functions, delivering some government salaries, and is used for transfers of funds from Yemenis living abroad.

Wednesday’s statement said the bank will tighten foreign exchange rules and Yemenis will not be allowed to take more than 10,000 US dollars out of the country without approval from the central bank.

“The central bank also reiterates its commitment to help commercial banks by transferring hard currencies to their foreign accounts,” the statement added.

Last year, the government floated the riyal, instructing banks to use the market rate for the riyal instead of a fixed rate.

On Wednesday, the currency was changing hands at around 610 riyals to the dollar on the black market in the southern port of Aden, base of Hadi’s exiled government, while the official rate was announced at just 490 riyals, according to traders. Black market rates are similar in Houthi-held territory.

Hadi’s government moved the central bank from the capital Sanaa to Aden in 2016, a move that put the bank in the crossfire of Yemen’s war.