BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – At least 25 people were killed and 70 wounded in clashes in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi yesterday between protesters, eventually backed by government forces, and a militia operating with Defence Ministry approval, a doctor said.
Residents said dozens of protesters, some armed, had massed outside the headquarters of the Libya Shield brigade demanding the disbanding of militias who have yet to lay down their weapons nearly two years after the overthrow of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
After several hours of fighting, military special forces were brought in to restore order and seized the compound, losing five men in the process, a military source said.
A doctor at central Benghazi’s al-Jalaa hospital said he had counted 25 dead in all and between 70 and 80 wounded.
Resentment against Libya’s myriad militias has been growing in recent months, especially after militiamen laid siege to ministries in Tripoli last month to force their will on the national assembly.
But the central government, whose own forces are too weak to maintain security in a country awash with weapons, has found itself having to co-opt or licence some of the most powerful militias to maintain even a semblance of order, while shutting down some others.
The Libya Shield brigade is made up of former rebel fighters who say they are aligned with the Defence Ministry.
“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 who declined to be named.