November 15, 2013 9:40 pm

Violence in Libya leaves 27 dead

People assist a man who was injured after Libyan militiamen opened fire on a crowd in southern Tripoli©AFP

People assist a man who was injured after Libyan militiamen opened fire on a crowd in southern Tripoli

Militiamen opened fire on largely peaceful protesters in the Libyan capital on Friday, killing 27 people and leaving 235 injured in the latest outbreak of violence by armed groups claiming to have fought against Muammer Gaddafi’s deposed regime.

Footage aired on television showed panicked men dragging others drenched in blood and running through streets as heavy gunfire raged. Gunfire could be heard throughout the city into the late evening, according to a witness. Several hospitals reported being overwhelmed with injured and called out for blood donations.

State television reported that army units and military police have been ordered to take positions between the protesters and the militia, a unit from Misurata that has been a source of trouble recently in the capital. Privately held Ahrar television reported that the Libyan air force had scrambled MiG fighter jets over the southwestern Ghargour neighbourhood where the unrest was unfolding.

The violence could portend even further trouble for oil-rich Libya. Witnesses said that Tripoli-based militias were entering the fray on behalf of the protesters, potentially escalating and extending the violence. Roads leading from Misurata were reportedly cut off to prevent any reinforcements from arriving.

Thousands of protesters heeding a call by the head of the Tripoli municipal council and other civic leaders took to the streets after Friday prayers to oppose the increasing power and impunity of the militias after two armed confrontations last Monday and Thursday between rival bands from the capital, Tripoli, and the number three city of Misurata.

“What happened last Thursday prompted the city residents to go out in the hundreds to protect and rescue their city,” Sadat al-Badri, the council leader, was reported as saying before the march. “That is a major sign that things have reached a point that requires a decisive solution.”

The militias, often referred to as brigades, are rooted in the armed 2011 uprising against Gaddafi and its immediate aftermath. They have filled the security vacuum created by the Gaddafi regime’s demise but have also engaged in banditry, gunfighting, extortion and kidnapping. Another militia group last month briefly abducted the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, before he was released by a different militia group.

The latest violence is unprecedented in Tripoli, though several such outbreaks in the eastern city of Benghazi last year led to widespread calls for the disbanding of all the militias, many of which have hardline Islamist agendas, and the resurrection of the uniformed police and armed forces. Mr Zeidan, during appearances after his kidnapping, has repeatedly called for the elimination of the militias and has vowed to strengthen the regular army and police.

Most analysts say his government so far is too weak to confront the groups, which are often led by charismatic warlords with strong bases of regional and tribal support.

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