Armed men attacked the building where Libya's parliament was meeting Sunday.
The operation was carried out by two militia units loyal to a retired general. As they stormed the building, they ransacking lawmakers' offices and fired automatic weapons into the air. Shelling could also be heard in the vicinity of the building, as clouds of black smoke poured into the air.
Libyan state TV reported the armed units kidnapped Speaker Nouri Bousahmein and seven other lawmakers. Al Jazeera TV and the local Libyan al Mada network reported that Bousahmein denied he had been kidnapped.
General Khalifa Haftar attends a news conference in Abyar, east of Benghazi, May 17, 2014.
Earlier, at a news conference, Bousahmein had called the attack by men loyal to former Army Chief of Staff Khalifa Haftar “a coup” against Libya's “legitimate government,” and called on opposing militias, belonging to mostly Islamist groups, to “counter the attacks.” He said General Haftar and his supporters should be arrested.
Haftar's supporters told Al Arabiya TV the attack on the parliament building was intended to “block the appointment of a new government” under businessmen Ahmed Maitiq.
Maitiq's appointment as prime minister two weeks ago was disputed by top lawmakers who claimed his confirmation vote took place without a quorum. Maitiq is supported by Islamist lawmakers and militias. A pro-Western prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was removed from office in a disputed vote of no-confidence early last month.
Haftar insisted in a video message broadcast on Arab TV networks that military operations he was conducting were in response to a demand by the Libyan people to “restore order” and “rid the country of terrorism.”
Libya's outgoing caretaker Prime Minister Abdallah al Thani issued a statement read on Libyan TV, accusing Haftar's forces of trying to “topple Libya's legitimate government.”
Forces loyal to Haftar blocked roads around the parliament building as well as a road leading to the capital's main airport. Arab satellite channels also reported warplanes loyal to the general overflew the capital. His forces fought against Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday.