x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Libyan militiamen open fire on peaceful protest in Triopli, killing 32

Militiamen attack demonstration that followed calls by imams during Friday prayers for protests against the militias.

People assist a man who was injured after Libyan militiamen opened fire on a crowd wanting them to move out of their headquarters on Friday. AFP
People assist a man who was injured after Libyan militiamen opened fire on a crowd wanting them to move out of their headquarters on Friday. AFP

TRIPOLI // Protesters set fire to a militia headquarters in the Libyan capital on Friday after militiamen opened fire on a peaceful demonstration killing at least 32 people.

Fighting started when militiamen shot at hundreds of protesters demanding their eviction from the capital after they had repeatedly fought with other armed factions. The protesters first fled but came back heavily armed and stormed the collection of villas occupied by the militia and set them on fire.

The demonstration followed calls by imams during midday prayers for demonstrations against militias, holdovers from the 2011 uprising that deposed the dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, who are a powerful force in the increasingly lawless country.

Hundreds of people carrying Libyan flags and white flags in a sign of peace, and singing the national anthem, had assembled in the capital’s Meliana Square.

They marched to the Misurata militia headquarters in the Gharghour district to press their demands when the fighters inside fired into the air to scare them off.

When the crowd continued to approach the building, the gunmen started firing at them.

At least 130 people were wounded in the attack, which witnesses said included heavy machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Fifteen of the injured were in critical condition.

The march was sparked by violence on Thursday, in which the Misurata militia also played a central role, illustrating again the instability of Libya.

One of the group’s leaders, Nouri Friwan, had been fatally wounded in fighting at a checkpoint manned by other former rebels, and two people were killed in subsequent fighting.

Al Sadat Al Badri, the head of the city council, said on Thursday that Tripoli residents are “fed up” with militias and called upon people to rally to drive them out of the city.

“We want Tripoli empty of weapons so construction can start,” he said. “Any assault against the protesters will have consequences and our revolutionaries are ready.”

One western diplomat said the situation was becoming “increasingly critical”, and the British, French, Italian and United States embassies issued a joint statement calling for Libyans to “put aside their differences”.

Residents of Tripoli frequently demonstrate against the militias, who have rejected calls from a weak central government to leave the capital.

Last month militants kidnapped the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, and held him for several hours before releasing him.

The head of an interior ministry anti-crime unit later boasted that he was behind the “arrest” and that he was “proud” of it.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting Associated Press