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Barghati caught in firefight, unhurt

20 January 2013, 09:47

Benghazi - Libya's defence minister was unhurt Saturday after being caught in a firefight between his bodyguards and ex-rebels at an airbase in the east of the country, his deputy told AFP.

Mohammed al-Barghati was leaving the airport in Tobruk, eastern Libya, when the shooting occurred, said Khaled al-Sherif.

"As the minister prepared to leave the airport by car, his bodyguards traded fire with angry soldiers and ex-rebels, but the minister was not hurt," Sherif said.

Libya's official LANA news agency said Barghati's car was not the target of the shooting, blaming the incident on a clash between military units at the Tobruk airbase east of Benghazi during which "warning shots were fired."

Barghati had been meeting with military brass to discuss means of bolstering the armed forces, his ministry said.

A military official, who declined to be identified, said the incident occurred after a former deputy defence minister in charge of the national guard and vital installations refused a government decision to quit.

The government recently decided to scrap the post of ex-minister Al-Seddik al-Ghaithi al-Obeidi, a jihadist, who was accused of refusing to put himself under the command of the army's chief of staff.

The fledgling army and police are too weak to rein in the militias who led the 2011 uprising that brought an end to the iron-fisted rule of veteran strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

More than a year after Gaddafi was slain, Libya is still awash with weapons and the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising first erupted, has been rocked by a wave of attacks targeting foreign diplomats, military and police officers.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said he was considering imposing a curfew on Benghazi, a day after a car bomb killed a police officer there.

Benghazi has emerged as a hub for jihadist groups, including militants who killed US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in an attack on the US consulate last 11 September.

Italy temporarily closed its consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday and pulled its staff out of the country following a failed gun attack on its consul.



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