TRIPOLI, June 5 (Reuters) - Tripoli’s international airport resumed operations on Tuesday, with the first flight departure in more than 24 hours after angry Libyan militiamen had forced its closure the day before.
An Austrian Airlines plane bound for Vienna took off around 1700 local time (1500 GMT). The flight had been due to leave early afternoon on Monday, but was canceled when gunmen drove armed pickup trucks onto the tarmac and surrounded planes.
The airline said it had canceled flights in and out of Tripoli for Wednesday. Several other airlines canceled flights on Tuesday, saying they were monitoring the situation in the Libyan capital closely.
A Qatar Airways plane also took off on Tuesday afternoon but had only crew on board.
“I declare the Tripoli airport officially open and ready to receive flights,” Milad Maqboq, director of airport operations said. “It’s up to airlines to cancel or resume their flights, but we are ready.”
In a fresh challenge to the interim government’s authority, members of the al-Awfea Brigade occupied the airport for several hours on Monday demanding the release of their leader whom they said was being held by Tripoli’s security forces.
Violence later broke out when militia groups from Tripoli and the mountain town of Zintan arrived to try to get the Awfea militia to leave the airport.
Leaders of militias which became part of the government’s official security forces after the war which ousted Muammar Gaddafi said they had intervened to stop the fighting, in which they said 10 people were injured, without government leadership.
Airport manager Fadel Bin Nusayer said engineers from Italy were due to arrive in Tripoli to check on an Alitalia plane, which was said to have sustained a bullet hole during the clashes. (Reporting by Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Michael Roddy)