Two powerful Libyan militia groups warned members of parliament to step down Tuesday or face arrest, threatening to escalate a political standoff that has plunged the North African nation into fresh turmoil.
The head of parliament responded by calling the televised statement an attempted "coup against legitimate institutions."
Parliament's term expired on Feb. 7, but lawmakers voted to extend it with plans to hold new elections in the spring. Since then, hundreds of protesters have held daily demonstrations demanding the legislative body be dissolved.
Rival militias, which wield the real power in Libya, have lined up behind competing political factions in what has become a power struggle between Western-backed Prime Minister Ali Zidan and Islamist factions in parliament that are trying to remove him. Tuesday's ultimatum raised fears the situation could devolve into armed confrontation.
It came a day after Libyans marked the third anniversary of the start of their revolution that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi but left the country with no strong central government or military.
Successive governments have relied on former rebels who fought Gadhafi to fill the security vacuum, but the fighters formed armed groups that have gradually turned the country into fiefdoms independent from government authority.
The joint statement by the al-Qaaqaa and al-Sawaaq militias, which was read on TV by an unnamed commander, called on the parliament "to hand over power" by 9 p.m. (1900 GMT), saying lawmakers who refuse to do so will be considered "usurpers of power" and will be detained.
The commander denounced Islamists saying they are an "epidemic disease for which we will be the cure" and vowed, "in front of God and the people that we are not and we will not be seekers of power ... but protectors of the nation until it stands on its feet to build its military and security institutions."