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US distances itself from renegade Libyan general

The United States distanced itself from a renegade general who has vowed to rid Libya of jihadists and said it was watching events in the country closely.

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday distanced itself from a renegade general who has vowed to rid Libya of jihadists and said it was watching events in the country closely.

Khalifa Haftar led a deadly assault on Islamist militia in Libya's second city Benghazi last week and has been accused by some of attempting a coup, in the latest unrest in the North African country since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moamer Gadhafi.

"We have not had contact with him (Haftar) recently. We do not condone or support the actions on the ground, and nor have we assisted with these actions," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

"So we are continuing to call on all parties to refrain from violence and to seek resolution through peaceful means," added Psaki, declining to say whether Washington viewed Haftar's actions as a coup attempt.

Libya's electoral commission announced on Tuesday that polls will take place on June 25 to elect a new parliament to replace the contested General National Congress, Lana state news agency said.

Gunmen from the ex-rebel Zintan brigade, who say they back Haftar, attacked the parliament building in the capital Tripoli on Sunday, while Haftar has been branded an "outlaw" by Libyan authorities.

"We have of course been watching closely what's been happening over the last couple of days... We have some concern about the gathering support on the ground. Again, it's a fluid situation and we're watching closely," said Psaki.

Haftar has won widening support for his campaign, not only from militia groups, but also from special forces of the regular army in Benghazi.

But jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Washington, charged that Haftar, who spent more than two decades in exile in the United States, was leading "a war against... Islam orchestrated by the United States and its Arab allies."

Separately, the US military has moved more aircraft and troops to southern Italy for a possible evacuation of the American embassy in Tripoli, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The unrest in Libya is "certainly unsettling," Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

"That's why we made the decision to move those Marines to Sicily. And they're ready to go if they're needed."

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