Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—At least 40 people have been killed and more than 400 injured in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after militiamen opened fire on protesters calling for their disbandment on Friday.
Demonstrators marched on the Tripoli headquarters of the Misrata militia, calling on them to lay down their arms and leave the capital. The unrest spread across Libya on Saturday, with clashes reported in eastern Tripoli.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denounced the killing of protesters. He told Reuters: “The demonstration was peaceful and had been permitted by the Interior Ministry, and then the protesters were fired on when they entered the Gharghur district.”
“The exit of armed groups from Tripoli is not something up for debate but necessary and urgently needed,” he added.
Hashim Bishr, head of the Supreme Security Committee in Tripoli, told Asharq Al-Awsat that members of the Interior Ministry’s rapid intervention unit intervened to prevent further clashes, but added that the military and police had been slow to respond.
“The Libyan military only sent reinforcements from the second and third battalions into Tripoli’s Gharghur district long after the violence had erupted,” he said.
“We have heard conflicting reports about what happened. Some say that the militiamen in Gharghur fired on the protesters, while others claim that the protesters began shooting,” Bishr told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“There were no military or security forces on the ground,” he added.
For his part, the head of the Misrata militia based at Gharghur claimed that the militia was fired on by demonstrators.
Speaking to Libya’s Al-Ahrar TV, he said: “It was not a peaceful demonstration. They carried light arms and shot at us.” He added that one militiaman had been killed.
The head of the Misrata militia rejected calls for armed militias to leave the capital. He said, “The only way we would leave is in our coffins,” adding, “We will only leave when the constitution is written and the state is safely set up.”
“When I am convinced that my state is on the right path, I will leave,” he added.
Libyan Defense Minister Abdullah Al-Thani cut short a visit to Jordan to return to Libya due to the escalating violence.
After initially calling for protests against the armed militias, Libyan Grand Mufti Sadeq Al-Ghariani called on protesters to return to their homes, blaming the General National Congress (GNC) and the government for the violence.
The Libyan Health Ministry invited Tripoli residents to donate blood, while the president of the Tripoli Local Council, Sadat El-Badri, called for a civil disobedience campaign to disband the militias and force them out of the city.
In the eastern city of Benghazi—the second-largest city in Libya—episodes of violence and killings of members of the military and security forces are still ongoing despite the deployment of Special Forces.