Protests Erupt in Tripoli As Clashes Leave Nearly Fifty Dead
A general three-day strike was launched in Tripoli Sunday, a day after nearly 50 people died and over 500 were wounded in the Libyan capital, closing down most of the city's businesses and schools. The fighting began Friday, after demonstrators entered the capital's Ghargour district, which houses the headquarters of the Misrata militia, in order to demand that the armed groups leave the city, and were subsequently fired upon.
In the largest display of public unrest to be seen in months, thousands marched in Libya's capital earlier this weekend, leading to two days of clashes; the latest occurring in the suburb of Tajoura Sunday, leaving one dead. On Friday,43 flag-waving protesters were killed by the Misrata militia group after the brigades reportedly opened fire from inside their houses in Ghargour. The demonstrators had been calling for the militia to leave — by Sunday, Libya's state news agency LANA reported that the Misrata militia had vacated its headquarters.
In response to the violence, local authorities in Tripoli announced a "general strike in all public and private sectors starting Sunday." According to Al-Sadat al-Badri, head of Tripoli's city council, the strike is to go on for three days.
"No forces from outside Tripoli should attempt to enter the city because the situation is very tense and could escalate further," Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said Saturday, urging all involved to "exercise maximum restraint. Likewise, US Secretary of State John Kerry has called "all sides to exercise restraint and restore calm," saying also that he was "deeply concerned" by the latest surge of violence.
Escalating the unsteady situation, Libya's deputy intelligence chief, Mustafa Noah, was abducted outside Tripoli airport on Sunday, two security sources told Reuters. No group has, as of yet, claimed responsibility for the kidnap, but militia groups are known to have taken officials in the past in order to gain political leverage. Only last month, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was taken by a militia group, although he was let go within a few hours, unharmed.
Since the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi two years ago, hundreds of militias — spawned from the informally created groups of local rebels who had fought Gadhafi’s military —have grown in power. Though the government had initially turned to the militias to keep security and guard certain districts, the groups aren't under state control, and have been known to take the law into their own hands — often involving assassinations and torture.