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Libya: Islamist militias called to face general

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FILE – In this Friday, March 18, 2011 file photo, then Libyan senior Rebel commander Khalifa Hifter leaves a press conference in the court house in the center of Benghazi, eastern Libya. Libya’s army chief ordered the deployment of Islamist-led militias to the capital Tripoli on Monday, May 19, 2014 in response to the storming of parliament by forces loyal to a renegade general, paving the way for a possible showdown between rival militia fighters. The revolt by Gen. Khalifa Hifter threatens to detonate the long volatile divisions among the multiple militias that dominate Libya amid the weakness of the central government and military. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

FILE – In this Friday, March 18, 2011 file photo, then Libyan senior Rebel commander Khalifa Hifter leaves a press conference in the court house in the center of Benghazi, eastern Libya. Libya’s army chief ordered the deployment of Islamist-led militias to the capital Tripoli on Monday, May 19, 2014 in response to the storming of parliament by forces loyal to a renegade general, paving the way for a possible showdown between rival militia fighters. The revolt by Gen. Khalifa Hifter threatens to detonate the long volatile divisions among the multiple militias that dominate Libya amid the weakness of the central government and military. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

In this image made from video provided by the Libyan national army via AP Television, Tripoli joint security forces on vehicles with heavy artillery stand guard on the entrance road to the parliament area after troops of Gen. Khalifa Hifter targeted Islamist lawmakers and officials at the parliament in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Forces loyal to a rogue Libyan general attacked the country’s parliament Sunday, expanding his eastern offensive against Islamists into the heart of the country’s capital. (AP Photo/Libyan national army)

In this image made from video provided by the Libyan national army via AP Television, vehicles with heavy artillery of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building after troops of Gen. Khalifa Hifter targeted Islamist lawmakers and officials at the parliament in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Forces loyal to a rogue Libyan general attacked the country’s parliament Sunday, expanding his eastern offensive against Islamists into the heart of the country’s capital. (AP Photo/Libyan national army)

In this image made from video provided by the Libyan national army via AP Television, smoke rises over the parliament area after troops of Gen. Khalifa Hifter targeted Islamist lawmakers and officials at the parliament in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Forces loyal to a rogue Libyan general attacked the country’s parliament Sunday, expanding his eastern offensive against Islamists into the heart of the country’s capital. (AP Photo/Libyan national army)

In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya. The death toll from fighting over the weekend in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi between troops loyal to Hifter, a rogue general, and Islamist militias has risen to at least 70, the Health Ministry said on Sunday. In a statement late Saturday, Libya’s interim prime minister, parliament speaker and the head of military warned Hifter against further pursuing his offensive and threatened the troops cooperating with him. (AP Photo/Mohammed el-Shaiky)

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TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s parliament chief ordered Islamist-led militias to deploy in the capital Tripoli on Monday, trying to impose control after forces loyal to a renegade general stormed the legislature’s building, in a move that raises the potential for a showdown between rival militias.

The revolt by Gen. Khalifa Hifter threatens to detonate the volatile divisions plaguing Libya since the 2011 ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

For the past three years, multiple militias have run rampant in the North African nation — some with al-Qaida-style extremist ideologies. The central government has almost no authority and the military and police remain shattered since the civil war that ousted Gadhafi.

Militias also wield heavy influence over the political scene. Some support Islamist political parties, which hold the majority in parliament, while others back the Islamists’ political opponents. For months the two sides have been in a tenuous balance of fear, with each wary of any overt move against the other.

Hifter could throw off that balance. He launched his uprising last week, presenting himself as a nationalist aiming to restore order to the country. He has vowed to crush the Islamists, whom he accuses of seizing control of the country and opening the door to al-Qaida-inspired extremists. Hifter was once a general in Gadhafi’s military, but turned against him in the 1980s and lived in the United States for years before returning to join the 2011 revolt against Gadhafi.

The general appears to be trying to harness widespread public frustration with the government’s impotence and with Islamists’ power. Opponents, in turn, accuse him of seeking to grab power.

On Sunday, militias backing Hifter stormed parliament and ransacked the building before withdrawing to the southern part of the capital, where they clashed with rivals in fighting that reportedly killed two and wounded 50. Hifter’s camp declared the suspension of the legislature and the handover of its powers to a 60-member body recently elected to write the constitution.

In response, parliament chief Nouri Abu Sahmein — an Islamist-leaning politician — on Monday ordered a powerful umbrella group of mainly Islamist militias known as “Libya’s Central Shield” to mobilize and defend the city against Hifter’s forces.

Abu Sahmein said in the order that the mobilization was to counter “the attempt to wreck the path of democracy and take power.”

The conflict threatens to polarize Libya’s militias into pro-Hifter and pro-Islamist camps and pit the two sides against each other. Already some among the hundreds of militias around the country were starting to line up.

One of Libya’s many al-Qaida-inspired extremist groups on Monday vowed to fight Hifter’s forces.

“You have entered a battle you will

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