Wednesday, January 13, 2016

GNA officials visit Zliten IS attack site but face opposition

Faiez Sirraj, prime minister designate of the UN-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, visited Zliten on Friday to offer condolences to families of the victims of the recent IS attack on a Zliten police academy.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in which a truck loaded with explosives was detonated as recruits carried out morning exercises. Around 50 were killed according to the latest estimates. Even as Serraj, with several other members of the nine-member Presidency Council, arrived at Misrata airport under tight security measures there were some signs of trouble ahead as there were protesters outside the airport who expressed rejection of the visit, which they characterized as political propaganda on behalf of the GNA. The GNA has not been approved by either of the two rival parliaments as yet.
The GNA must gain a vote of approval from the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) before its term can begin. There have already been four meetings of the HoR. They have all failed to vote on the issue because they have lacked a quorum.
Accounts of the trip and what happened before the group finally flew back to Tunis vary. The Libya Observer, which supports the rival General National Congress(GNC) government, claims the delegation left the airport at Misrata secretly through a back door. It was able to safely travel to Zliten where the group offered condolences to the families of those killed in the attack. However, as news of the arrival spread, armed protesters began to gather and blocked the city's entrance in anger. While some militias support the GNA others consider it a government imposed by foreign interests and oppose it. The Addafniya checkpoint in Misrata was also closed. Even in Tripoli armed brigades were stationed at the eastern Tajoura suburb as rumours spread that the Sirraj convoy was escaping from Zliten to Tripoli.
As the situation got worse, officials from the GNC government tried to calm the protesters. Spokesperson for the government Mohamed Ismail said the GNC officials reached an agreement with the protesters to avoid bloodshed and let the convoy return to Misrata. The delegation managed to leave Libya safely through the Misrata airport. The Observer also claimed that an ambulance loaded with explosives was blown up by a suicide bomber after being chased by security forces. There were no reports of casualties. The Libya Herald also reports on the incident. The Libya Herald also reported that the Serraj delegation was back in Tunis after "an eventful flying visit to Zliten". Another report gives a rather different version of events from the Oberserver:
On their way back to the airport, the delegation was forced to turn around at Dafnia checkpoint – just west of Misrata – as the road was closed due to fighting. “We heard shooting at a distance”, vice PM Mussa al-Koni told Libya Channel. Sources on the ground said the clashes were between forces backing the GNA and others opposing it.

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