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Armed militia seizes 10 employees at Tunisian consulate in Libyan capital, officials say

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TUNIS, Tunisia — An armed militia stormed into the Tunisian general consulate in Libya's capital on Friday, taking 10 employees hostage, officials said.

Mokhtar Chaouachi, a spokesman for the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, said it was not clear whether the attackers were holding the hostages on site or had taken them elsewhere. He also said he did not know whether the attackers had opened fire or had made any demands in exchange for the captives.

Khalifa Ghwell, who holds the post of prime minister for the Islamist-led, militias-backed government in Tripoli, said that authorities were working to win the release of the employees. He declined to comment on circumstances of their abduction, saying: "Everything will be fine, God willing."

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry called the attack "a vile aggression" against Tunisian sovereignty and a violation of international conventions protecting diplomatic personnel. The government is monitoring the situation and working to secure the release of the employees, a ministry statement said.

Libya has been divided between rival governments and hundreds of militias in the aftermath of its 2011 civil war that ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi. An Islamist-led government backed by militias seized Tripoli last August and Libya's internationally-recognized parliament — which was forced out — now convenes in the eastern city of Tobruk.

After Friday's abductions, the Foreign Ministry repeated a warning to Tunisians urging them not to travel to the neighboring country under the current instability unless absolutely essential. Despite the dangers, many Tunisians work in Libya: Official figures put the number at some 60,000.

Last month, 172 Tunisians were detained by authorities in Tripoli. The Foreign Ministry has said they were picked up in an immigration sweep. They have since been freed in a series of releases under pressure from Tunisia's government upon several Libyan groups.

Tunisia's consul to Tripoli, Brahim Rezgui, said then that those arrests were in retaliation for the detention days earlier of Walid Klib, a leader of the Libyan Dawn militia, at the airport in Tunisia's capital Tunis. A judicial official said he was charged under Tunisia's anti-terrorist law.

A Tunisian court on Thursday rejected an appeal for Klib's release.


Maggie Michael contributed from Cairo.

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