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Libyan capital tense after attack on parliament

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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, 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) — The Libyan capital remained tense on Monday, a day after forces loyal to a renegade general stormed the parliament and said they suspended the house, challenging the legitimacy of the country’s weak central government, three years after the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya’s leadership condemned Sunday’s brazen attack in which two people reportedly died and more than 50 were wounded, and vowed to carry on.

The attack saw militia members backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire raid the parliament building in the heart of Tripoli, sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives as gunmen ransacked the legislature.

Hours later, a commander in the military police in Libya read a statement announcing the suspension of parliament on behalf of a group led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a one-time rebel commander who said the U.S. had backed his efforts to topple Gadhafi in the 1990s.

Mokhtar Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel on behalf of Hifter’s group, said it assigned a 60-member constituent’s assembly to take over for parliament. Farnana said Libya’s current government would act on as an emergency Cabinet, without elaborating.

Farnana, who is in charge of prisons operated by the military police, said forces loyal to Hifter carried out Sunday’s attack, insisting it was not a coup, but a battle by “the people’s choice.”

“We announce to the world that the country can’t be a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism,” said Farnana, who wore a military uniform and sat in front of Libya’s flag.

Libya’s interim government condemned the attack on parliament in a statement issued shortly after midnight Sunday, and largely ignored the declaration by the general’s group.

“The government condemns the expression of political opinion through the use of armed force,” Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said in a statement. “It calls for an immediate end of the use the military arsenal … and calls on all sides to resort to dialogue and reconciliation.”

Militias that backed the country’s interim government manned checkpoints around the capital late Sunday. Hifter’s forces in Tripoli appeared concentrated around the road to the city’s airport and its southern outskirts.

By Monday morning, gunfire along the capital’s airport highway had died down and a tentative calm returned to the city.

Authorities seemed determined to convey a message of business-as-usual. Libyan news agency LANA cited the Ministry of Education as denying that high school end-of-tern exams were suspended. The ministry urged students to go to school as normal.

The attack on parliament followed an assault Friday by Hifter’s forces on Islamist militias in the restive eastern city of Benghazi, which authorities said killed 70 people.

Sunday’s attack in Tripoli targeted the Islamist lawmakers and officials Hifter blames for allowing extremists to hold the country ransom, his spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi told Libyan television station al-Ahrar.

“This parliament is what supports these extremist Islamist entities,” al-Hegazi said. “The aim was to arrest these Islamist bodies who wear the cloak of politics.”

Libyan officials believe members of the al-Qaaqaa and Sawaaq militias — the largest in Tripoli — backed Hifter, even though they operate under a government mandate.

Since Gadhafi’s overthrow, Libya’s army and police have relied on the country’s myriad of militias, the heavily armed groups formed around ethnic identity, hometowns and religion that emerged from the rebel factions that toppled Gadhafi.

Bringing the militias under control has been one of the greatest challenges for Libya’s successive interim governments, one they largely failed at as militias have seized oil terminals

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