Libyan government struggles for control after militia attack on protesters

Clashes between Libyan soldiers, militias, and gunmen erupted Saturday in Tripoli. On Friday, 43 people were killed when militiamen opened fire on citizens protesting unlawfully armed groups. 

Ismail Zitouny/Reuters
Protesters march during a demonstration calling on militiamen to leave, in Tripoli November 15. At least 43 people were killed and 400 wounded in Tripoli Friday, when militiamen opened fire on hundreds of protesters who had marched on their brigade headquarters to demand that they leave the Libyan capital.

Clashes erupted Saturday in Libya's capital as soldiers and government-affiliated militias attempted to regain control of a base occupied by armed gunmen, a day after a deadly militia attack on protesters.

A fighter on the government side said one of his colleagues was shot dead in the fighting in the Tajoura neighborhood of eastern Tripoli. Eight pro-government fighters were wounded, the official LANA news agency reported.

Soldiers and government-affiliated militiamen were trying to regain control of a base attacked Friday evening by militiamen coming from the nearby city of Misrata.

The fighter spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

A military commander in the base, Col. Musbah al-Harna, told LANA that the militia from the eastern city of Misrata attacked the base around dawn Saturday.

Al-Harna said the militiamen later left the base, taking with them much of the weapons and ammunition there. He said the militiamen are now at the edge of the city.

Tripoli is on edge after other Misrata militiamen in Tripoli opened fire Friday on protesters demanding the disbanding of unlawful armed groups, killing 43 people and wounding 400, LANA reported the Interior Ministry as saying.

Many stores in the city were closed on Saturday. Tripoli officials have declared a three-day mourning period.

Also on Saturday, Prime Minister Ali Zidan warned against attempts by militiamen from outside Tripoli to enter the capital, saying it could lead to a "bloodbath," LANA reported.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya urged Libyans to exercise "maximum restraint and resolve to peaceful means to resolve their differences."

The mission said in a statement that it "strongly condemns the violence which took place in Tripoli ... resulting in the tragic loss of life among civilians, and calls for its immediate cessation."

Since the 2011 fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, hundreds of militias — many of them on government payroll — have run out of control in Libya, carving out zones of power, defying state authority and launching violent attacks. Libya's government has failed in forcing them to join the weak police and armed forces it is struggling to set-up, amid growing public disgruntlement over the country's security vacuum.

The behavior of Misrata militiamen in particular has sparked public outrage.

Saturday, security was tight around Tripoli as funeral processions for those killed Friday are expected. Government-affiliated militias and armed residents set up checkpoints throughout Tripoli and at its gates, blocking gunmen from entering the city and to protect their neighborhoods from more violence.

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