Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Libyan PM: Abduction was an attempted coup

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TRIPOLI, Libya -- Libya's western-backed prime minister on Friday said his brief abduction by gunmen this week was an attempted coup by his Islamist political rivals, using militias which he warned are trying to "terrorize" the government and turn the North African nation into another Afghanistan or Somalia.

In a sign of the turmoil, a car bomb detonated outside a building housing the Swedish and Finnish consulates in the eastern city of Benghazi, where militias are particularly prominent. No one was hurt but the blast damaged the building's facade. The city, Libya's second-largest, has seen frequent violence, including killings of security officials and a string of attacks on foreign missions that have driven most diplomats out of the city.

With his nationally televised address, embattled Prime Minister Ali Zidan appeared to be trying to leverage public shock over his abduction a day earlier into momentum against his political opponents and against the multiple armed groups stirring chaos since the 2011 toppling of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Militias, many including Islamic extremists, carry out daily violence nationwide and have defied attempts by the weak central authorities to rein them in.

Zidan also gave his first account of the events Thursday, when men broke into the luxury Tripoli hotel where he lived before daybreak and took him away, holding him in a basement prison with criminals for hours until he was freed.

'This is a coup. There are political rivals behind this... a political group that plots to topple the

government'

-- Libya PM Ali Zidan

"This is a coup," he said, speaking alongside members of his government. "There are political rivals behind this... a political group that plots to topple the government." He appeared to be referring to Islamist blocs in parliament that have sought to remove him. "There is a force that wants to slaughter the state before it is established."

Zidan has been struggling with political opponents and militias since he was named by parliament to lead one year ago. The tensions were enflamed by last Saturday's raid by U.S. special forces that snatched a Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of the capital and whisked him off to custody in a U.S. warship.

The raid angered many militiamen, who accuse Zidan -- who has cultivated close security co-operation with the United States -- of collaborating in the abduction of a Libyan citizen. Zidan's government has denied any prior knowledge of the operation.

Several dozen members of the hardline Ansar al-Shariah group marched Friday evening between two main Tripoli squares, denouncing the raid and the prime minister. "Zidan, you coward, you are an American agent," they chanted, waving black banners. The al-Qaida-inspired group is believed to be involved in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

Along with other militias, Ansar al-Shariah held a larger protest, backed by pickup trucks mounted with machine-guns, in Benghazi.

In Tripoli, al-Libi's family attended a separate rally by about 50 Islamists.

"For six days I have no idea if he (al-Libi) is alive or dead, sick or well," she said, identifying herself as Um Abdullah and speaking from behind a black veil over her face. "I want to talk to him because even if they say he is fine, I don't believe the Americans."

Al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, is accused by the U.S. in connection with the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

At the same time, Prime Minister Zidan faces criticism from many Libyans who hate militias and say he has proven impotent to stop them.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A29

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