Tripoli protesters demand militias leave town

TRIPOLI Wed Dec 7, 2011 12:25pm GMT

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Scores of Libyan judges and lawyers protested in Tripoli on Wednesday against lawless behaviour in the capital by former rebel groups, whom they said should now leave the city and return to their home towns.

The disparate militias came together to oust Muammar Gaddafi and have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of his 42-year rule in the capital three months ago. The new interim government is pressuring them now to go home and leave the job of keeping order to the police and a new army it plans to establish.

Judges and lawyers said they decided to protest after an armed militia raided the offices of the prosecutor general on Tuesday.

The crowd of about 250, carrying placards reading "No to weapons; Yes to justice!" gathered outside Tripoli's courthouse before marching to the central Martyr's Square.

"We are protesting here to express our shame at what happened yesterday," said Adel M'salati, a chief judge at the Tripoli court, referring to the attack on the prosecutor's office.

"These are people who spent time in prisons. They left prison, put on the uniform of revolutionaries and have started to steal in the streets and attack police stations," he said in a speech to the protesters.

"Now we ask the military to take its place and the police to take their place to provide justice and security for the country and the people," said M'salati.

Khalifa Abuda, a lawyer who was taking part in the demonstration, said protesters would not give up until their demands were met. "This protest is to protect justice and fairness," he said.

DEADLINE

The head of the local government in Tripoli, in the most decisive effort yet to curb the influence of outside militias, has called for daily protests until the militias go back to their home towns and cities.

The official said if the militias had not left by December 20, the government would close down the city to all traffic except vehicles belonging to the interior and defence ministries.

Militias from the cities of Misrata and Zintan are among the most powerful armed groups inside the Libyan capital. They man roadblocks, roam the city in pick-up trucks, and have set up bases in government buildings.

Analysts say the militias are still in Tripoli because they want to convert their military muscle into political power in the new system of rule which will be drawn up over the next seven months.

A militia commander from Zintan, whose men provide security at Tripoli International airport, said on Wednesday his men would hand over to state security forces as soon as they receive the orders from the central government.

"Whenever they ask us to hand over, we will hand over as required. This is what we agreed upon," said Ali Ejda, deputy airport commander.

"We are supporting people in Tripoli to call for the removal of weapons from the streets," he said.

"We look forward to being relieved of this extraordinary duty and going back to our civilian lives."

(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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