Libyans renew pressure on militias to vacate

Protesters back on the streets of Tripoli to urge former rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi to leave the capital.

    Thousands of people have turned out in Libya's capital out to press the militias still in the city to follow those who have already withdrawn and leave.

    Friday's move appeared aimed at keeping up momentum after clashes last weekend in which dozens were killed. The city council and students union called for a "large demonstration," as authorities pledged to secure the protesters.

    Demonstrators were also urged not to march on areas occupied by the former fighters who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 so as to avoid confrontation.

    Some militias have already pulled out of Tripoli, but there are questions about whether their withdrawal is real or just for show.

    A Western diplomat said: "We'll need a few days to confirm whether these withdrawals are really genuine."

    "This is too good to be true," a woman called Asma wrote on Twitter, reflecting suspicion on the part of some Tripolitanians. 

    Many of the groups have long rejected government calls to lay down their arms or integrate into the armed forces, triggering the frustration of Libyans who once hailed them as heroes for toppling Gaddafi.

    Matters came to a head on November 15, the deadliest day in Tripoli since Gaddafi's toppling, with gunmen from the Misrata militia opening fire on demonstrators demanding they leave the city, killing a number of them.

    In retaliation, members of another militia attacked villas which the Misrata fighters were occupying, setting off clashes that lasted into the next day.

    Overall, 46 people were killed and more than 500 others wounded.

    General strike 

    Since Sunday, residents of Tripoli have been holding a general strike, pressing their demands for militias to leave.

    The Misrata brigade started pulling out on Monday at the behest of community leaders in their coastal city.

    A day later, the government announced plans to remove the militias and eventually integrate them into the security forces, a long-standing objective. During the week, militias including three powerful groups from the western city of Zintan and two Islamist groups have withdrawn.

    Prime Minister Ali Zeidan attended Thursday's pullout by Zintan's Sawaek Brigade and thanked the group for agreeing to do so.

    "The decision to evacuate armed groups from the capital will apply to all factions without exception," he said.

    Rights group Amnesty International has urged the authorities to protect the protesters from violence by militias, saying "anything short of that could result in a new tragedy."

    The government has called the withdrawals "an important step toward building the state".

    SOURCE: AFP


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