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Crowds rally in Libya to support retired general's campaign

By Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In Benghazi, demonstrators gathered in the city's Tahreer square
  • Crowds in Tripoli sang the national anthem, waved banners saying "Yes to Dignity"
  • They urged the army and police forces to crack down on militias

(CNN) -- Libyans rallied in various cities on Friday to support an ex-general's campaign against Islamist militias and his calls to suspend parliament.

Thousands took to the streets after prayers in support of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, whose campaign against extremists is called "Operation Dignity."

In Benghazi, demonstrators gathered in the city's Tahreer square, while crowds in Tripoli sang the national anthem as they waved the flag and carried banners that read "Yes to Dignity."

They called for an official response to the militias.

"Libya is in trouble, we want police, we want army," they chanted.

While some Libyans don't back Haftar and don't want military rule, they support what he is doing.

Haftar's movement launched an assault on Islamist militias in Benghazi, demanded the suspension of parliament and called for a new council to run the country.

He said the General National Congress, the interim parliament, has mismanaged Libya and turned it into "a state sponsor of terror ... and a hideout for terrorists."

He called for a new, civilian council to take its place during a news conference in Benghazi on Wednesday.

He said the parliament has refused to "fulfill the demands of the people" and asked the Higher Judicial Council to appoint a civilian council to lead the country in the interests of political stability and security.

This council, he said, would have three tasks: appointing a caretaker emergency government, overseeing the upcoming parliamentary elections and handing over power to the new parliament.

Libya's electoral commission announced that elections would be held next month, the state news agency LANA reported this week.

The move appeared to be aimed at easing national tensions amid a governing and security crisis.

Haftar said his Libyan National Army forces would secure the country during the transitional period and after that.

The declared goal of the LNA is to eradicate Islamist militants from Libya, including Ansar al-Sharia -- the group blamed for the deadly September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.

Haftar's campaign seemed to gain more support from military units, officials and armed groups.

His men last week launched a land and air offensive against the Benghazi bases of Ansar al-Sharia and other Islamist groups with ties to the government in Tripoli. The resulting battle killed 75 people and wounded 141 others.

The chiefs of staff of the Libyan Air Force and the navy have announced they are endorsing the campaign.

But some say his campaign is an opportunistic strategy capitalizing on growing discontent in Libya with a weak central government and a deteriorating security situation.

Haftar was once a general in the Libyan army under dictator Moammar Gadhafi, but had a falling out with him and emigrated to the United States, where he lived for almost 20 years. He returned in 2011 to participate in the revolution that overthrew Gadhafi.

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