By Ghaith Shennib and Ulf Laessing
TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Six people were killed and dozens more wounded in clashes between militiamen and armed residents in the capital Tripoli on Friday, state television said, in a further challenge to Libya’s weak government.
The third outbreak of street fighting within 10 days underscored Libya’s struggle to contain regional militias that helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi two years ago but kept their guns. Armed disorder has blocked most oil exports for months.
Friday’s bloodshed began when militiamen opened fire into hundreds of protesters demanding their eviction from the capital after they had repeatedly battled with other armed factions for control of parts of the capital.
A Reuters reporter saw an anti-aircraft cannon firing from the militia compound into the crowd on Friday as it chanted, “We don’t want armed militias!”
Protesters at first fled but then returned heavily armed to storm the gated buildings, where militiamen – from the central coastal town of Misrata – were holed up past nightfall.
Dozens of soldiers in army trucks arrived to try to separate the crowds and militiamen in the compound, and they sealed off roads to prevent more armed people joining the unrest. Heavy smoke could be seen rising from the scene.
Air force planes circled overhead to monitor Tripoli’s main roads. “We want to make sure the militia don’t bring in any reinforcements,” said a military spokesman.
State television quoted hospital sources for its casualty figures. A Reuters reporter saw three bodies in Tripoli’s central hospital, where staff called via loudspeakers for blood donations to treat the wounded.
ARMED DISORDER BLOCKS OIL EXPORTS
Rival militia gangs and former fighters have refused to disarm since the downfall of Gaddafi, eroding the authority of the central government and severely disrupting oil exports from the OPEC member state.
Tripoli has been spared the almost daily bombings and killings that plague Libya’s second city, Benghazi, in the east of the vast North African state.
But clashes between rival militias sometimes break out in the capital, where Libya’s nascent armed forces are still in training and are no match for the heavily armed militiamen.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has called for more foreign training for his military. Highlighting Libya’s chaos, the premier himself was briefly abducted in October by a militia group on the government payroll.
Friday’s violence began as a peaceful rally of some 500 people demanded the departure of Misrata gunmen who had fought twice last week with a rival group that had briefly detained one of their members for driving a car without number plates.
Libyan authorities have tried to coopt the militias by placing them on the government payroll and recruiting them to provide security in Tripoli and other cities.
But the gunmen often remain loyal to their own commanders rather than to state authorities and fight for control of local areas, smuggling of weapons or drugs, or to settle personal feuds.
Strikes and armed protests by militia and tribal gunmen demanding payments or more autonomy rights have also shut much of the OPEC member’s oil output, depriving the government of its main source of income.
(Additional reporting by Feras Bosalum; Writing by Patrick Markey and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
- Politics & Government
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Muammar Gaddafi