TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s defence minister will be removed from his post following fierce clashes between rival armed militias in the capital Tripoli in which 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on Thursday.
Calling the repeated violence plaguing Libya “suicidal scenes”, Zeidan said his government and the national assembly had pledged to clean Libya’s streets of weapons, a mammoth task in a country where militias often do as they please.
Loud explosions and gunfire rocked Tripoli late into the night on Wednesday, the second day of violence in the battle-scarred city, highlighting the rivalries between heavily armed groups roaming the country since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Armed groups made up of former rebel fighters from different parts of the country have grown in power and ambition nearly two years after Gaddafi was ousted, and the government has struggled to impose its authority over them.
Defence Minister Mohammed al-Bargathi had submitted his resignation last month after some of the groups besieged two ministries. However, he was persuaded to stay on.
“After what happened yesterday, it has been decided that he will be relieved of his position,” Zeidan said in a televised statement. “We will name a new minister as soon as possible.”
The premier said a new army chief would also be named soon, after Yussef al-Mangoush resigned this month following deadly clashes in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Libyan Health Minister Nurideen Doghman said five people had been killed and 97 wounded in Wednesday’s clashes. That came after five were killed and 20 wounded in fighting on Tuesday.
The violence started on Tuesday morning when a militia given the job of guarding a major oilfield attacked the headquarters of the national force set up to guard oil facilities across the country.
The group from the western town of Zintan was disgruntled after another group was given supervision of a drilling operation in the area, officials said.
That fighting stirred widespread resentment in Tripoli against fighters from Zintan, and by Wednesday parts of the city were caught up in fighting.
Underlining the complexity of the situation, Wednesday’s violence pitted a separate group from Zintan against fighters from the Tripoli-based Supreme Security Committee (SSC).
“Such incidents that take place due to the prevalence of weapons, need to stop. Ensuring safety does not mean sitting with a weapon ... it means supporting the unity of the nation and its legitimate bodies,” Zeidan said.
Without giving further details, he said his government and the national assembly, Libya’s highest political body, had agreed “to take the necessary steps to disarm civilians, and their weapons should be handed over to the armed forces”.
Zeidan said Bargathi, upon instructions from the national assembly, had ordered brigades aligned with the defence ministry to leave positions inside Tripoli and to set up around the city.
“The regular military forces should be based around the city and not inside unless there is a state of emergency or it is ordered by the chief of staff,” he said.
In a separate incident in the southern desert town of Sabha, two people were killed and 17 were injured when three car bombs exploded in different areas late on Wednesday.
Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing by Mike Collett-White