22 Sep 2012

Libyan protesters storm militia base

1:38 pm on 22 September 2012

Pro-government demonstrators have stormed the headquarters of an Islamist militia in the Libyan city of Benghazi, aiming to evict fighters from the site.

The Ansar al-Sharia militia has been linked to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in which the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans died. It denies involvement.

Thousands of Libyans on Friday marched in Benghazi in support of democracy and against the Islamist militias that Washington blames for the assault on its consulate. Hundreds of Ansar al-Sharia supporters held their own protest.

Later, hundreds of demonstrators entered the militia headquarters, pulling down militia flags and torching a vehicle inside the compound, Ansar al-Sharia's main base in Benghazi.

A witness told Reuters that several pickup trucks with the group's fighters had initially confronted the protesters and opened fire, wounding two protesters, before driving away.

Militia fighters made a stand at another heavily fortified compound across the eastern city, firing on demonstrators with heavy machine guns and wounding several people, protesters said.

The demonstrators also took over a compound belonging to the Abu Slim brigade, another independent militia.

The action appeared to be part of a coordinated sweep of militia headquarter buildings by police, government troops and activists following a mass public demonstration against militia units earlier in the day.

The "Rescue Benghazi day" demonstration called for the government to disband armed groups that have refused to give up their weapons since the NATO-backed revolution last year.