Libya buries dead after clashes

2013-06-09 19:20
Muammar Gaddafi (Picture: AFP)

Muammar Gaddafi (Picture: AFP)

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Benghazi - Benghazi buried its dead on Sunday, a day after bloody clashes between demonstrators and ex-rebels killed 31 in Libya's second city, official news agency LANA reported, amid fears of fresh violence.

To cries of "the martyrs' blood was not spilled in vain", several hundred mourners gathered in Al-Hawari cemetery near the centre of Benghazi, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

The funerals took place in a calm atmosphere, but several young men agreed to meet in the city centre later on Sunday to protest against the "massacre of civilians by militias".

The clashes flared on Saturday after dozens of demonstrators, some of them armed, tried to force the powerful "Shield of Libya" brigade from its Benghazi barracks, an AFP correspondent reported.

They encircled the headquarters and called on regular security forces to step in, saying they wanted rid of armed militias in the city.

The "Shield of Libya" is mostly made up of rebels who battled dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and is formally under defence ministry control.

LANA quoted a source from the Al-Jala hospital in the eastern city, cradle of the 2011 uprising that ousted Gaddafi, as saying the fighting had killed at least 31 people and wounded 100 more.

The country's highest political authority, the General National Congress on Sunday called in a statement for calm and restraint on all sides "for the benefit of the national interest".

It said that the GNC was "in contact with the government and security bodies" with a view to taking "decisive measures".

Libya's post-Gaddafi authorities, who have still not managed to form a professional new army and police corps, often call on the "Shield of Libya" to secure borders and intervene in the various tribal disputes that trouble the country.

The brigade is the largest and best equipped of the ex-rebel militias. Wissam Ben Hamid, a former rebel in his forties known for his ties to Islamists, commands the group.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said late on Saturday that the "Shield of Libya" had evacuated its Benghazi headquarters and the regular army had taken control of the building and heavy weapons stored there.

Regular troops were also set to take control of three other buildings used by the brigade in Benghazi, an army spokesperson said on Sunday.

But this does not necessarily mean the brigade will be disbanded.

Mohammed al-Maadani, an academic from Benghazi, told AFP he thought such a move was unlikely.

"The state cannot do without these ex-rebel brigades" for the time being, he said.

Maadani said "the authorities have trusted the former rebels with missions that the army (which is currently being trained) is unable to perform at the moment, such as monitoring borders".

"But every time it is the state that loses its credibility by giving legitimacy to these ex-rebel groups that the population has rejected," he added.

Armed forces spokesperson Colonel Ali al-Shikhi said the brigade was "a reserve force of the Libyan army", and any attack on it was an "attack on the legitimate authorities".

In October, Benghazi residents managed to force other militias from their bases.

The government has been unable to disarm and disband the ex-rebel militias that still control areas of the country and is trying to absorb some of them into the security forces despite public opposition.

Violence has been on the rise in Benghazi in recent months, with several attacks on Western-linked targets and security officers.

Read more on:    muammar gaddafi  |  libya
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