By Ashraf Abdul-Wahab.
Tripoli, 14 February 2014:
General Khalifa Hafter, who is nominally in charge of land forces but in reality without any military power, announced a coup d’etat on TV this morning. Speaking to Al-Arabiya channel in the name of what he said was the Libyan Republican Alliance, he announced that he had suspended the General National Congress, the government and the Constitutional Declaration, and that his forces were in Tripoli.
He later said that it was not a coup d’etat as such but “a correction to the path of the revolution’.
The Saudi-backed TV station added that communications and the internet had been cut in the capital.
Neither statements were remotely true. The internet was working with its usual slowness and other communications were normal. Libya Herald reporters went to the Congress buildings and the Prime Minister’s office and found no unusual activity. There were no checkpoints and no extra security guards. The only people in action at Congress were the cleaners. There was no sign of any military activity elsewhere in the capital, either. It is a normal quiet Friday.
The government has responded to Hafter’s declaration with scorn, ordering Hafter’s arrest.
The Defence Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni said that that the claim of Hafter forces being in the capital was a lie. He did not have any troops. He challenged him to show them to the people of Tripoli. Hafter had no legitimacy, Thinni added, saying the Commander-in-Chief had ordered his arrest and that of other military officers for plotting a coup.
Denouncing Hafter and warning people not to believe in rumours, the Prime Minister said that Congress and the government were still in place. Ali Zeidan added that Hafter had already been ordered to retire and that the coup announcement was laughable.
Hafter was one of a number of largely former leading officers at a series of secret meetings held recently, disclosed by Thinni on Tuesday, which discussed plans for the removal of Congress and the government and their replacement by a military council. Also reported in attendance was Air Commodore Saqr Adam Geroushi, the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force who was disbarred from office by the Integrity Commission a year ago.
The government and Congress were alerted to the fact and Nuri Abu Sahmain, who was given temporary powers as Commander-in-Chief by Congress three weeks ago, ordered the Military Police to arrest those attending the meetings. However, the Libya Herald has been told that they refused, claiming that Congress’ legitimacy had expired on 7 February.
Hafter led Libyan forces during the Chad war which finally ended in 1987. After its failure, he had a falling-out with Qaddafi and left Libya for the US when he lived in Virginia for the next two decades, reportedly financed by the CIA. He returned with the 17 February Revolution and early on was briefly reported to have been appointed the National Transitional Council’s Chief of Staff. However, the post was then given to the late General Abdul Fattah Younis. Hafter has been been largely powerless since, but still a top military official.
A year and a half ago, there was an attempt to murder him in Benghazi.