Libyan irregular forces backed by helicopters clashed with Islamist militias in Benghazi on Friday in fighting that left at least 19 people dead and posed a new test to the fragile government.

Members of the self-declared Libyan National Army, led by retired General Khalifa Haftar, shelled bases belonging to Ansar al-Sharia and another Islamist militant group in Benghazi, said Mohamed Al-Hejazi, a spokesman for Haftar’s forces.

The violence prompted Libya’s prime minister to order the regular military to control any armed groups – including Haftar’s forces – in the eastern city, where militants often clash with the army, and assassinations and bombings are common.

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