News / Africa

Libya's Main Airport Reopens After Militia Raid

Airport officials negotiate with members of al-Awfea militia on the tarmac of Tripoli international airport in this still image taken from video June 4, 2012.
Airport officials negotiate with members of al-Awfea militia on the tarmac of Tripoli international airport in this still image taken from video June 4, 2012.
Libya's main airport in Tripoli reopened Tuesday with the departure of an Austrian airliner, following a seizure of the facility by disgruntled militiamen.

The Libyan government said it retook control of the airport late Monday, hours after militiamen from a central region stormed the runway to protest the disappearance of their leader.

Pro-government militias initially responded to the airport seizure, disarming some of the assailants and forcing others to flee before handing control of the site to state security forces.

Dozens of gunmen from the Libyan town of Tarhouna had seized the airport by driving armored vehicles onto the tarmac, surrounding foreign airliners to prevent them from departing and forcing passengers to leave the planes.

The head of the Austrian embassy's commercial section, David Bachmann said most of the passengers were local and international business people.

"Of course, they were not delighted, but they were not panicking," said Bachmann.  "It's not like you have a holiday flight to Nairobi and suddenly the airport gets hijacked or whatever.  People are expecting things to happen when they come here."

The gunmen said they raided the airport to pressure Libya's ruling National Transitional Council to explain the whereabouts of their commander Abu Ajila al-Habshi. Some accused Tripoli authorities of detaining al-Habshi on Sunday.

Libya's state-run LANA news agency said the NTC condemned both the storming of the airport and what it called the abduction of al-Habshi. It said Libyan authorities were searching for the missing militia leader.

Libya has been plagued by confrontations between rival militias since many of them united to overthrow autocratic leader Moammar Gadhafi last year. Many militiamen have refused to lay down their weapons or become fully integrated into Libya's security forces.

Bachmann said Libyan government efforts to improve security in the country have encouraged foreign airlines such as Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways and Lufthansa to resume expensive and profitable flights to Tripoli.

But, he said Monday's storming of the airport by militiamen may make other airlines hesitant.

"We are trying to encourage people to come here and, of course, those happenings don't improve the image too much," Bachmann added.

The unrest at Tripoli's airport comes two weeks before Libya plans to hold its first free national elections since Gadhafi seized power in a 1969 coup.

Libyans are set to vote on June 19 for a 200-member assembly to write a new constitution and form a government.

There have been reports this week that the election could be delayed several weeks. But a Libyan government spokesman said Tuesday that the vote will go on as scheduled.

Sami Zaptia, publisher of the independent Libya Herald newspaper, said that the government hopes the democratic process will teach Libyans to air their grievances through democratic means rather than armed protest.

"That's why the government has pointed out, once, twice and three times or more that we're now in a democracy," said Zaptia.  "It's a new democracy.  You have the right to dissent.  You have the right to abstain.  If you don't like what the policies are you can object, but there are rules to the game.  Democracy is not chaos.  It is not a free-for-all. "

Zaptia said Libya's recent experience of 40 years of dictatorial rule means it will be very difficult for people to learn the habits of democracy.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Crowdfunding Helps Save Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit

Smithsonian turns to Kickstarter to raise more than $700,000 to help preserve the spacesuit worn by the first man to walk on the moon More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs