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November 8, 2013 10:53 am
Fighting between rival militias erupted in Tripoli, late on Thursday and continued into Friday, raising fresh fears about the north African oil nation’s stability.
Reuters reported one person dead and 12 injured, while the state news agency did not cite fatalities but said at least 29 were injured – two seriously.
A militia from Tripoli and a rival group with roots to Libya’s third city of Misurata, fired anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at each other and into the night sky for hours, terrifying residents for the second time in three days.
Clusters of militiamen in camouflage with truck-mounted heavy-calibre guns could be seen gathered at squares to the east of the capital’s commercial centre.
Men in residential neighbourhoods near the fighting hurried out of their homes clutching assault rifles to form makeshift neighbourhood watch groups of the type that sprang up immediately after the August 2011 collapse of former dictator Muammer Gaddafi’s rule in the capital.
A fusillade struck the prominent five-star Radisson Blu hotel, igniting a small fire and causing a brief evacuation of the building, which frequently hosts diplomats, international business people and foreign journalists.
Witnesses described the fighting as some of the worst since the battle to take the capital from Gaddafi more than two years ago. But others noted that militias have clashed in Tripoli and elsewhere before without plunging the country into all-out conflict.
“It’s more like a turf battle,” said an official of an international organisation in Tripoli. “None of the big parties wants to go to war. They go to the brink and step back. The danger is this goes out of control.”
The fighting was prompted by the reported death of Nouri Friwan, a Misurata militia leader, from an injury sustained during a smaller clash that erupted early on Tuesday. Friwan and his Nosour Brigade clashed with members of the Joint Rapid Intervention Force, a grouping of Tripoli militias tasked with protecting the capital.
Both Nosour and the rapid intervention force are officially under the authority of the government, which pays their salaries.
Witnesses described the fighting as some of the worst since the battle to take the capital from Gaddafi more than two years ago
The latest outbreak of violence highlights Libya’s persistent lawlessness. “There’s no authority to step in and put everyone in their place,” said the official. “These things are happening because of this breakdown. There is no police force strong enough to deal with these things.”
Libya has been bedevilled by security woes since the collapse of Gaddafi’s four-decade rule. Militias that fought the government during the 2011 Nato-backed war and those that have sprung up since filled the security vacuum left by the former regime’s demise.
A militia leader in eastern Libya in recent months took control of several oil facilities, blocking the export of a million barrels of oil a day over demands for greater autonomy in the east.
Last month, militiamen authorised by the government abducted and briefly detained Prime Minister Ali Zidane in a still murky caper that underlined the country’s lawlessness. A string of assassinations targeting former and current security officials in eastern Libya has left at least 100 dead.
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