Reuters International

By Ahmed Elumami

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Armed groups aligned with a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli took over a compound occupied by a self-declared rival prime minister in heavy fighting that spread to several parts of the Libyan capital in the early hours of Wednesday.

The offices of a TV station sympathetic to the self-declared National Salvation Government were burned down in the clashes, and the channel went off air. A hospital was hit in the chaos.

The fighting appeared to have been triggered on Tuesday by a dispute over the control of a bank in the western Hay al-Andalus neighbourhood, before escalating into power struggles between rival groups from Tripoli and the port city of Misrata, and between groups that sided with the U.N.-sponsored Government of National Accord (GNA) and their opponents.

Tripoli is controlled by a patchwork of armed groups that have built local fiefdoms and vied for power since Libya's 2011 uprising.

The latest fighting continued for much of Tuesday in western Tripoli before spreading to southern neighbourhoods after sunset. Unusually heavy gunfire and explosions could be heard late into the night, with tanks and other heavy weapons deployed on the streets.

By Wednesday, guards belonging to the Central Security of Abu Salim brigade, which is aligned with the GNA, were stationed outside the Rixos hotel complex, where the head of the self-declared National Salvation Government had established a base.

A Reuters reporter said a gate to the complex had been demolished and the brigade's fighters had secured surrounding roads.

There was no general information on casualties, but a 14-year-old girl was killed when a residential building was hit, according to relatives.

Prominent office and hotel buildings near Tripoli's western seafront were also hit by rockets or shelling, as was a hospital in the Abu Salim district, setting off a fire in the paediatric department. Classes at schools in central Tripoli were cancelled on Wednesday because of the violence.

The offices of the TV station that was taken off air, Al Nabaa, were still smouldering late on Wednesday morning. It was not clear who had carried out the attack.

Al Nabaa was also taken off air for several weeks at the end of March last year when its building was attacked as the GNA's leadership arrived in Tripoli.

Subsequently, the National Salvation Government and its armed supporters resurfaced as the GNA struggled to impose its authority, and there have been several rounds of heavier clashes between armed groups that support the GNA and those that oppose it.

Tripoli has been suffering an acute liquidity crisis and banks are often the flashpoints for violence. Last week the headquarters of Aman bank were gutted by fire after fighting broke out outside the building.

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

Reuters

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