Fighting renewed in Libya
TRIPOLI, Libya — Soldiers and government-affiliated militias stormed a military base occupied by gunmen in Libya's capital on Saturday, sparking fresh fighting that left four dead a day after a deadly militia attack on protesters.
Armed residents and pro-government militiamen have set up checkpoints across Tripoli, as thousands of protesters gathered in the city center to mourn the 43 killed in Friday's attack when militias fired on a crowd urging the dissolution of unlawful armed groups.
Friday's demonstrations had been the biggest show of public anger over militias in months. About 500 people were wounded, health officials said. On Saturday, some residents of Tripoli have said they will go on strike until unlawful militias are disbanded.
Since the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, hundreds of militias — many on the government payroll — have sprung up across Libya, carving out zones of power, defying state authority and launching violent attacks. The government has tried to incorporate them into the fledgling police force and army but failed.
Saturday's violence started at dawn when militiamen from Misrata raided the base in the Tajoura neighborhood, taking arms and ammunition before escaping to the outskirts of the city, Col. Musbah al-Harna told state news agency LANA from inside the base.
A fighter on the government side said one of his comrades was shot dead in the fighting. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists. A hospital official later said that three others were killed and 13 people were wounded. He too spoke anonymously for the same reasons.
Later in the day, government-affiliated militias and residents erected checkpoints along the road from Tajoura to the city center, checking IDs and searching cars in hopes of preventing outside militiamen from entering.
Prime Minister Ali Zidan told militias from outside the capital not to enter, saying that could lead to a “bloodbath,” LANA reported.
Zidan, who was briefly kidnapped by militiamen himself last month, said Friday his embattled government was working on a plan to drive all militias out of Tripoli.
Meanwhile, mourners gathered in Martyrs' square, a focal point of the country's uprising against Gadhafi, to pray for the dead. They raised Libyan flags and portraits of the slain protesters, chanting “Martyrs for you Libya” and calling for civil disobedience.
A statement drafted by Tripoli officials in the name of the city's inhabitants was read out to the crowd. It vowed to keep protests going until militias leave the capital.
The statement also stressed that Friday's protests were peaceful. It said that demonstrators were not armed but carried only “olive branches and white flags.” It also held the government responsible for the killings.
Tripoli officials have declared a three-day mourning period. Many stores in the city were closed on Saturday.
The Friday attack started when thousands of protesters marched from a downtown mosque to a neighborhood called Gharghour, home to the headquarters of a militia originally from the city of Misrata that has a powerful presence in Tripoli. In Gharghour, many militias have turned villas and residential compounds of former Gadhafi-era officials into camps where they stash weapons.
By late Saturday, a government-affiliated militia, Libya Shield-Central Command, said it was in control of Gharghour. In a statement read out on Libya al-Ahrar TV, the militia declared it a military zone and vowed to turn it over to the government.
It is not clear if Libya Shield's control of the neighborhood will ease the tension, as residents have called for the military and the police only to be in charge.
The government has given militias a December deadline to join state security forces or lose their government paychecks — though it is not clear if the government would actually cut them off, as similar threats have been made in the past.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya condemned the violence, urging Libyans to exercise “maximum restraint” and resolve their differences peacefully.
The U.S. Department of State also condemned the violence and urged restraint, saying in a statement that it would continue to work with the Libyan authorities toward improving security and good governance.
“There can be no place for this kind of violence in the new Libya,” it said in the statement, issued in the name of Secretary of State John Kerry.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Suspected allies of beach gunman arrested in Tunisia
- Kuwait mosque bomber slipped security watch in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain
- U.N. panel accuses Israel, Hamas of war crimes in Gaza
- Powder’s role in fire at Taiwan music festival investigated
- Iran nuclear talks to spill past June 30 deadline
- ISIS back on offense in Syria; 2 areas have heavy casualties
- Indonesia’s military jockeys for political power
- Jewish population near pre-World War II level