Tripoli, May 18 (IANS) The Libyan interim government Saturday set up a no-fly zone in an effort to calm down the clashes in Benghazi as militia leader Khalifa Haftar declared to continue his assault.
The decision came after a day of fierce fighting between Haftar's militia and some Islamist armed groups left at least 37 people dead and around 140 injured, according to Xinhua.
Haftar, a retired major general, led his self-proclaimed "national army" into Libya's second largest city Benghazi Friday, shelling many Islamist militant bases, including Ansar Al-Sharia's and February 17 Brigade's compound.
Witnesses said helicopters and warplanes were used. Although the Libyan army denied any involvement in the clashes, an army high command later admitted that some officers and units had participated in the action.
Local media reports said that Haftar withdrew most of his troops out of Benghazi Saturday, but he said fighting will continue and thus called on citizens in southern Benghazi to evacuate. He added that air strikes might take place to eliminate some targets.
Haftar said his maneuver was to purge the city from "terrorists", but the interim government defined it as a "coup" and asked him to have self-control and "resist any temptation to intrude".
Libya's Chief of Staff Abdessalem Jadallah al-Salihin also announced that the army "opposes any armed group that tries to control Benghazi by armed force".
Benghazi was the birthplace of the 2011 protests against Gaddafi. The city has witnessed a drastic escalation of violence and become a major extremist base in North Africa since the US ambassador to Libya was killed in 2012.
Libya's interim government has failed to confiscate the weapons and ammos spread all over the country, leaving a major threat to the public security.
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Updated Date: May 18, 2014 03:00:09 IST