Militias ordered out of Tripoli as Libya deploys troops

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2013-11-15T160212Z_01_ISM03_RTRIDSP_3_LIBYA-VIOLENCE-15-11-2013-18-11-57-707Troops deployed in Tripoli after militias were ordered to leave the capital following deadly weekend clashes sparked by protest against the former rebels in Libya’s 2011 revolt.

The unrest in Tripoli was the deadliest in the capital since the uprising and erupted when former rebels from Misrata opened fire on protesters, triggering the clashes that killed at least 43 people and wounded 450.

As the capital observed a three-day period of mourning on Sunday, gunmen had seized the deputy head of Libya’s intelligence services Mustafa Nuh near Tripoli airport.

But his abductors released him on Monday, an intelligence official told AFP.

“Nuh has been freed today (Monday),” the source said on condition of anonymity, without elaborating.

The abduction of Nuh, who is himself originally from Misrata, came amid persistent tensions between armed groups from his hometown and rival groups in Tripoli.

On Sunday, community leaders, officials and former rebel commanders from Misrata urged the “withdrawal of all ex-rebels from the city of Misrata who are in Tripoli, whatever their group is … in under 72 hours,” in a statement issued late Sunday.

In the streets of the capital itself, dozens of soldiers and armoured vehicles deployed on Monday in response to the violence.

“A number of units of the national army are about to enter the city of Tripoli from several areas in order to secure it,” the government said in a statement.

The Misrata brigade at the heart of the latest violence saw some of the heaviest fighting during the uprising against Gaddafi, when Misrata was besieged by regime forces.

While such groups were initially hailed as heroes for their role in toppling the Gaddafi regime in 2011, public frustration with militias has been growing.

Many groups have rejected government calls to lay down their arms or integrate into the armed forces, instead carving out their own fiefdoms across the vast mostly-desert country.

Demonstrators protesting against militias on Friday in Tripoli’s Gharghour neighbourhood were fired upon from villas occupied by the fighters from Misrata, who killed several protesters before rival militias swept in, sparking clashes that continued until Saturday.

In response to the bloodshed, Tripoli’s city council had called a three-day general strike, and on Monday many shops and businesses were closed around the capital, an AFP journalist said.

Universities in Tripoli on Monday announced they would close for the week.

Hanan Salah, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the latest clashes “showcase the extent of the reckless acts of unaccountable militias these past two years, and the government’s lack of ability to control them”.

Elsewhere, a senior military officer escaped a bomb blast on Monday in the eastern city of Benghazi, which has been the scene of regular violence since 2011.

The city’s military governor escaped an assassination attempt that killed a member of his entourage and seriously wounded another, a security official said.

“The motorcade of Colonel Abdallah al-Saati, head of the joint security room and military governor of Benghazi, was attacked as he passed through the Al-Hadeq area, leaving one dead and one seriously wounded from his entourage,” said security forces spokesman Colonel Abdallah al-Zaidi.

Zaidi said that explosives experts were combing the area for to find out how the attack took place.

Bombings and shootings in the region have killed more than 100 army and police officers and judge.

– AFP

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