Armed Militia Storms Tripoli Airport Runway

Libyan authorities have regained control of Tripoli's international airport after its runway was seized by a militia of ex-rebels who surrounded planes and grounded all flights.

In a fresh challenge to the interim government's weak authority, militiamen from the city of Tarhouna occupied the airport for several hours demanding the release of their leader, Abu Elija, whom they said was being held by Tripoli's security forces.

An Italian passenger who was due to fly out described the situation as chaotic. He said: "There were about 200 of them who came into the airport, they were armed.

"We were waiting to board our flight and we could hear noises, people shouting."

The gunmen carrying out the raid fired their weapons into the air and injured an airport employee, according to the official LANA news agency.

As the runway was being stormed, an official said: "It is total confusion. Everyone is fleeing."

Another added: "Cars mounted with anti-aircraft guns and armed men are surrounding the aircraft and preventing them from moving."

It took until evening for the authorities to regain control of the airport, deputy interior minister Omar al-Khadrawi confirmed.

However, a government spokesman said flights are not expected to resume for at least 24 hours.

Tarhouna, in central Libya, was widely seen as a favourite of the country's former leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Its dominant tribe, also called Tarhouna, held many positions in the Libyan military under Gaddafi.

The city's residents are viewed with suspicion by former rebels, who now run the country.

Tribal rivalries have swept Libya since Gaddafi's overthrow last year.