Government-allied Libyans seize militia bases in Benghazi after protest ... - Washington Post
BENGHAZI, Libya —Three people were killed and dozens injured when protesters tried to overrun the base of a powerful militia in Benghazi early Saturday morning, according to Libyan state television.
The clashes followed a protest Friday in which thousands of Libyans marched through the city demanding the dissolution of militias that have ruled the country’s streets since a revolution ended the 42-year rule of Moammar Gaddafi.
Civilians protested against paramilitary groups in Libya including the group responsible for the death of a U.S. Ambassador. Elizabeth Palmer reports.
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Many Libyans have blamed extremist groups for the attack on the U.S. consulate here last week that left four Americans dead. The groups have operated with relative impunity in the security vacuum that has prevailed since Gaddafi’s ouster and death last year.
After nightfall Friday, hundreds of protesters stormed the base of Ansar al-Sharia, the extremist militia that many have accused of leading the consulate attack, forcing the retreat of Ansar al-Sharia fighters.
The protesters then turned their rage on other militias, storming the base of Rafallah al-Sahati, an influential Benghazi militia with conservative Islamist leanings, which until recently had controlled the city’s airport. The confrontation sparked a firefight, and Libyan television broadcast footage of injured men being rushed to hospital emergency rooms.
The group’s leader, Ismail Salabi, was lightly injured, according to his brother-in-law.
It was unclear whether Libya’s weak police force had regained control of the militia bases Saturday morning. Rumors circulated that Rafallah al-Sahati had retaken its base.
The government in Tripoli has struggled to deal with the militias, which are composed largely of the young men who fought in last year’s revolution. Its efforts to bring some of the militias under a more unified national force have failed to deliver state-run security to Libya’s streets.
On Friday, as protesters draped in the red, black and green of the Libyan flag carried signs reading “Benghazi deserves better” and “No legitimacy, except to the police or the army,” Ansar al-Sharia held its own protest in nearby Al-Kish Square. The militia’s members gathered to call for the implementation of Islamic law in a demonstration that the anti-militia crowd said marked a provocation.
The dueling protests underscored a broader struggle underway in the country nearly a year after Libyans from across the political spectrum joined hands in an eight-month war to oust Gaddafi. It is a battle to define a new Libya — to answer the crucial question of what the Libyan people, government and culture look like when the shackles of dictatorship are thrown off.
“I think the struggle that’s eating people up right now is the struggle for an identity,” said Alya Barghathy, an English professor at Benghazi University who joined the anti-militia protest Friday. “After all these years of being neglected and living in darkness, they don’t know who they are.”
The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime left a system in a shambles. After decades of repression, the country has lurched forward in recent months to form political parties and elect a General National Congress. The next task will be the drafting of a new constitution.