Fierce fighting halts flights into Libyan capital

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Airplanes are seen at the airport in Tripoli

Fierce fighting erupted around the Libyan capital’s international airport on Sunday as the anti-Islamist militia that control it came under attack, airport officials said.

“Rockets struck inside the airport perimeter around 6 am (0400 GMT)” interrupting flights, an official said.

“Clashes followed between the Zintan militia who control the airport and rivals who want to drive them out,” the official added.

The former rebel militia from Zintan, a hill town southwest of the capital, are the main supporters of liberals trying to resist attempts by powerful Islamists bidding for a power in the vacuum left by the 2011 ouster of veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

The exchanges with heavy weapons that rival armed group retain from the NATO-backed uprising were heard in the city centre, 25 kilometres (15 miles) away, AFP correspondents reported.

They came just hours after the United States warned that conflict in Libya could become “widespread,” after electoral officials acknowledged that fraud had clouded a June 25 vote for a new parliament that President Barack Obama had hailed as a “milestone” on the road to democracy.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in Libya and dangerous posturing that could lead to widespread conflict there,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“We affirm our support for Libya’s democratic transition and urge the seating of the new Council of Representatives as soon as possible,” she added.

On Thursday, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya announced it was pulling out dozens of staff because of security concerns.

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