Tripoli: Libyan militiamen attacked peaceful protesters demanding the disbanding of the country`s rampant armed groups on Friday, killing over 30 people as they opened fire on the march with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Witnesses said protesters went home to gather weapons and later returned to the site of the attack, suggesting more bloodshed was possible. The country`s grand Mufti called on protesters to end their demonstrations and said he held the government responsible for ending militias` presence in the capital.
The march in the capital Tripoli by thousands of protesters was the biggest show of public anger at militias in months. Since the 2011 fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, hundreds of militias, many of them on government payroll, have run out of control in Libya, carving out zones of power, defying state authority and launching violent attacks.
The protesters marched from a downtown mosque to the headquarters of a militia originally from the city of Misrata that has a powerful presence in Tripoli. They waved Libyan and white flags and chanted, "We want an army, we want police," referring to demands that the country`s weak security forces take the place of militias.
When they neared the building, militiamen in civilian clothes and military uniforms came out of the headquarters, opening fire at the protesters with automatic weapons, RPGs and anti-aircraft guns. Footage aired on the privately owned al-Nabaa television network showed protesters running from gunfire while carrying others covered in blood.
An official at Tripoli Emergency Hospital told a news agency it had the bodies of 15 dead protesters. Libya`s official news agency LANA quoted a medical official at Tripoli`s Central Hospital as saying it had the bodies of seven dead protesters, bringing death toll to at least 22. The agency said the attack wounded more than 130 people, leaving many in critical condition.
Militiamen also beat a reporter and a photographer before protesters ultimately rescued them. After the attack, some protesters marched back to the mosque while others remained close the militias` headquarters. Many demanded the head of Tripoli city council to use force to expel the armed men.