'2 dead' as Tripoli residents rebel against militias
Tripoli (AFP) - Former rebel fighters opened fire Friday on hundreds of demonstrators calling for the ouster of unruly militias from the Libyan capital, leaving at least two dead and 25 wounded.
The militias are holdovers from the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi and now a powerful force in the increasingly lawless North African country.
"Two dead and 25 wounded have so far been admitted to Tripoli hospitals," a health ministry official told AFP, asking not to be named, in what he termed a provisional toll.
Sadat al-Badri, president of the Tripoli local council, or town hall, who had called for the protest, told AFP the shots fired at demonstrators came from inside the headquarters.
"Tensions are on the rise in Tripoli. We're going to announce a general strike and launch a civil disobedience campaign until these militias leave," he said.
At the weekly Muslim prayers held hours earlier, imams in their sermons backed the call to protest against militias issued by the town hall as well as Libya's mufti, the highest religious authority.
Hundreds of people carrying white flags in a sign of peace, as well as the national flag, and singing the national anthem had assembled in the capital's Meliana Square.
"No to militias," their banners read. "Yes to the police and army."
The protesters, among them children, marched to the Misrata militia headquarters in the Gharghour district to press their demands when gunmen inside fired into the air to scare them off.
When the crowd continued to approach the building, the gunmen started firing at them, said an AFP correspondent who saw two wounded, including one hit in the stomach.
A rocket also crashed into the main road near the demonstrators, without causing casualties, the correspondent said.
A leader of the militia from Misrata, east of the capital, told private television channel Al-Naba that the demonstrators had opened fire first.
The march was sparked by violence on November 7 in which the Misrata militia also played a central role, terrorising Tripoli residents and illustrating again the instability of Libya.
One of the group's leaders, Nuri Friwan, had been fatally wounded in fighting at a checkpoint manned by other ex-rebels, and two people were killed in subsequent fighting.
With tensions running high, pick-ups loaded with anti-aircraft guns headed for the area of the militia headquarters later Friday, witnesses said, although it was unclear which force was involved.
Regular security forces were not sighted, apart from the air force making low passes over the capital.
The mufti, Sadok al-Ghariani, appealed to residents to go home to avoid further bloodshed, while the health ministry called for blood donations to Tripoli hospitals.
Residents of Tripoli frequently demonstrate against the militias, who have rejected calls from a weak central government to leave the capital.
Last year, around 30 demonstrators were killed as anti-militia protests turned into violent clashes in the eastern city of Benghazi.