'Yellow vest' Libya protesters say France backs Tripoli assault

"Yellow vest" protesters in the Libyan capital say France is backing military strongman Khalifa Haftar who has launched an offensive to seize Tripoli (AFP Photo/Mahmud TURKIA) (AFP)

Tripoli (AFP) - Dozens of "yellow vest" protesters rallied Tuesday in the Libyan capital to denounce what they said was France's support for military strongman Khalifa Haftar who has launched an offensive on Tripoli.

The demonstrators donned yellow vests in a nod to the jackets worn by anti-government protesters who have been rallying across France since November.

"France must stop backing the rebel Haftar," read one sign held up by the demonstrators gathered in central Tripoli's Algiers Square.

Another sign read: "France supplies weapons to the rebels (in exchange) for petrol."

Fierce fighting between forces loyal to Haftar and those backing the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has rocked Libya since the offensive on Tripoli was launched earlier this month.

At least 174 people have been killed and 758 wounded in the battle for control over the Libyan capital, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

Pro-government forces and Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) accuse each other of targeting civilians, with each launching daily air raids in addition to clashes on the ground.

Haftar is seen by his allies -- Egypt and the United Arab Emirates -- as a bulwark against Islamists who have gained a foothold in Libya after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

But many also consider France as a key backer of the military strongman, a charge denied by French authorities.

Tuesday's protesters called for diplomatic ties to be severed with countries that "back aggression" on Tripoli.

"Supporting Haftar by other governments is a declaration of war" against Libya, read another sign held by protesters.

Last week, a French diplomatic source said authorities in Paris have "no hidden plans" concerning Hafter and would not recognise his legitimacy should he overrun Tripoli.

But supporters of the UN-backed GNA say France has blocked resolutions at the UN Security Council, the European Union and other international bodies denouncing Haftar's offensive.

A British-drafted resolution obtained Tuesday by AFP at UN headquarters in New York has been presented to the Security Council and demands an immediate ceasefire in Libya.

The proposed measure said the offensive by the LNA "threatens the stability of Libya and prospects for a United Nations-facilitated political dialogue and a comprehensive political solution to the crisis".

The GNA on Tuesday called for Europe's support against Haftar.