At least 31 people have died and dozens others have been wounded after protesters attacked the headquarters of a powerful militia alliance in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, a hospital official has said.
Fighting erupted on Saturday after dozens of demonstrators stormed a base belonging to the Libya Shield brigade, a group of militias with roots in the rebel groups that fought in the country’s 2011 civil war, They are tasked with maintaining security and are aligned with the Defence Ministry.
The protesters were demanding that militias leave their camp and submit to the full authority of Libya’s security forces.
Mohamed Belied, director of Benghazi’s al-Jala hospital, said on Sunday that the deaths were caused by gunshots and explosive fragments. Hospital officials also said that protesters made up most of the casualties.
Adel Tarhuni, spokesman for the Libya Shield, said one member of the brigade had died and another seven were wounded. He said there was a peaceful demonstration in front of the brigade’s headquarters, before armed men infiltrated it.
In a statement on Sunday, Prime Minister Ali Zidan described the events as “sad and painful” and urged people to be cautious and exercise self-restraint.
Zidan said the protesters demanded that a checkpoint at the entrance of the town be removed and that members of the Libya Shield leave the camp so that the police and army could take over. He said full details would be announced when investigations were completed.
Ahmed Belashahr, a local activist, said: “People protested because they believe militias go against Libya’s stability, which can only be achieved through a proper army and police.”
However, Tarhuni defended the legitimacy of the brigade, which he said officially came under the umbrella of the defence ministry.
Benghazi has been the scene of numerous attacks and assassinations over the past year as the power struggles between militiamen have intensified.