BENGHAZI:At least 25 people have been killed and 70 injured in clashes between protesters and armed militiamen in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, Libyan officials say.
On Saturday, about 200 demonstrators, some armed, gathered outside the headquarters of the Libya Shield Brigade demanding the disbanding of militias, residents and officials said.
“A group of protesters started protesting against the presence of militias. They were calling for the disbanding of groups to rebuild the army,” said a Benghazi resident.
“As I was leaving, I saw protesters throwing stones and the other side fired back.”
Since the overthrow of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the Libyan government has been struggling to tackle the presence of armed militias, such as the Libya Shield Brigade, which is made up of militants who fought against forces loyal to Gaddafi.
The members of the Libya Shield Brigade, who claim they are operating with Defense Ministry’s approval, have so far refused to lay down their weapons.
The protesters demanded the brigade vacate its premises and lay down its weapons.
The militiamen clashed with the protesters, who were largely unarmed but a few had weapons, according to a witness. “When I was there I didn’t see any of the people use them,” he said.
After several hours of clashes, Special Forces were called in and restored order and took over the compound, a military official said.
He added that the military lost five of its men in the operation.
The fighting left 25 people dead and between 70 and 80 wounded, said a doctor, who had counted the victims at central Benghazi’s al-Jalaa hospital.
Libyans rose up against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in February 2011 and deposed him in August 2011. He was slain on October 20 of the same year.
Benghazi was the birthplace of the 2011 uprising. It is largely governed by militias in the absence of unified Libyan security and military forces.
The former rebels refuse to lay down their arms, despite efforts by the central government to impose law and order.
Benghazi has been the scene of numerous attacks and assassinations over the past year as the power struggles between militiamen have intensified.