Libya government warns of collapse as militias clash at airport

Smoke billows from an area near Tripoli's international airport as fighting between rival factions around the capital's airport continues on July 24, 2014 (AFP Photo/Mahmud Turkia)

Tripoli (AFP) - The Libyan government warned on Friday of the possibility of a break-up of the country if clashes between rival militias for control of Tripoli airport went on.

Calling for an end to 13 days of conflict around the airport, the interim government warned of "the collapse of the country" and "the destruction which could result from ... endless war".

The warning came as fresh clashes broke out between rival Libyan militias battling for control of Tripoli airport, the target of 13 days of shelling that have disrupted air links to the outside world.

Columns of smoke billowed into the sky around the airport perimeter, while loud explosions were heard throughout the morning, an AFP correspondent reported.

Libya's main international airport has been shut since fighting erupted on July 13, a bout of violence that has killed at least 47 people and wounded 120, according to the health ministry.

The clashes, the most violent since the overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, started with an assault on the airport by a coalition of groups, mainly Islamists, which has since been backed by fighters from third city Misrata.

The attackers are battling to flush out fellow former rebels from the hill town of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, who have controlled the airport for the past three years.

Both Zintan and Misrata were major bastions of the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and slayed Kadhafi, and regional as well as ideological battles have fuelled a struggle for power ever since.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday condemned the fighting as "unacceptable", saying it "must not be used to pursue political goals".

The unrest in Tripoli has forced banks and petrol garages to shut, paralysing the capital as power cuts grow more frequent.

The price of fuel on the black market has reached 120 dinars (72 euros, $97) for 20 litres (nearly five gallons), compared with an advertised rate of just three dinars.