Libya’s internationally recognised Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and his ministers visited the eastern city of Benghazi in a show of support for his troops battling Islamists groups.
Thinni’s forces, together with troops loyal to army general Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive against Islamist fighters in Benghazi in October – part of turmoil gripping the oil producer four years after the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Thinni’s troops have regained territory in several districts of the Mediterranean port city, Libya’s second largest, and say they hold 90 percent of it, although fighting continues near the port and other areas.
Highlighting the fluid situation, videos surfaced last week on social media purportedly showing members of the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia driving in cars through Benghazi’s streets in an alleged bid to set up a Sharia police force.
In an attempt to show his own forces are in charge, Thinni and his ministers flew in to Benghazi airport, which has been closed for commercial flights since May because of fighting.
“I came here to tell the world that the city has not been hijacked as some claim but liberated,” he told Reuters after a cabinet meeting in a heavily-protected barracks. “Some areas are still out of our control but the army is dealing with it.”
“I came to see myself what the army needs,” Thinni said.
Thinni has been forced to work from the eastern city of Bayda – about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Benghazi – since an armed group called Libya Dawn seized the capital Tripoli in August, setting us its own rival administration not recognised by world powers.
Likewise the elected parliament allied to Thinni, the House of Representatives, has sought shelter to the east, in Tobruk near the Egyptian border.
Tripoli’s rival government accuses Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, two Arab countries worried about the spread of Islamists, of backing Thinni’s troops militarily.
Thinni has merged his forces with once irregular troops of Haftar, who has since been reinstated as an army general. Army forces under the command of the chief of staff in Tripoli are now controlled by Libya Dawn.