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Libya’s eastern leader Haftar says army to take formal control

TUNIS (Reuters)Libya’s eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar said on Monday his Libyan National Army (LNA) was accepting a “popular mandate” to rule the country, apparently brushing aside the civilian authorities that nominally govern eastern Libya.

Haftar, who launched a war a year ago to grab the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwest Libya, was already widely understood to control the parallel administration that rules in the east.

He did not spell out in his brief televised speech on Monday what form the new power structure would take and the wider political ramifications were not immediately clear.

Libya has been split since 2014 between areas controlled by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the northwest, and territory held by eastern-based forces in Benghazi.

“We announce that the general command is answering the will of the people, despite the heavy burden and the many obligations and the size of the responsibility, and we will be subject to the people’s wish,” he said.

Although the LNA advanced last year into the southern suburbs of Tripoli, and has been bombarding the capital frequently, it lost ground to pro-GNA forces during fighting this month.

Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. The GNA is backed by Turkey.

Though Haftar had long been the de facto ruler of eastern Libya, power was nominally held by a civilian administration. Benghazi is home to parallel state institutions, as well as the national parliament.

The GNA falls under a three-man Presidential Council, founded in 2015 in a political agreement aimed at ending the chaos and division that have persisted since the 2011 uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Haftar said last week that the agreement had failed.

Mohammed Ali Abdallah, an adviser to the GNA said, in a statement: “Haftar has once more exposed his authoritarian intentions to the world. He no longer seeks to conceal his contempt for a political solution and democracy in Libya.”

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