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Libya to dissolve ‘unlawful’ militias after Benghazi uprising

A Libyan civilian watches one of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades cars on fire. Hundreds of Libyans stormed the base of a hardline Islamist militia in Benghazi on Sept. 21, 2012.

Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press

The Libyan authorities said late Saturday they had decided to dissolve all militias and armed groups that do not come under state authority.

The move, a day after Benghazi residents rebelled against the militias in violence that killed at least 11 people and wounded over 70, was announced by Mohammed al-Megaryef, head of the national assembly, in the eastern city.

The authorities also decided to put in place an "operations room" in Benghazi bringing together the army, forces of the interior ministry and defence ministry brigades comprising former rebels.

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And they called on the army to impose its authority by putting its own officers at the head of brigades born out of the 2011 revolt, which escalated into civil war and toppled the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

The new authorities have not been able to disband these civilians-turned-fighters though many of their units have joined the ministry of interior or ministry of defence.

On Friday, tens of thousands of Libyans demonstrated against militias.

It came 10 days after an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi sparked by a American-made film that mocks Islam left four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, dead on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Hundreds of them later stormed bases of militias sparking clashes that left 11 dead and dozens wounded. The fighting centred at the headquarters of Raf Allah al-Sahati, a salafist brigade under the defence ministry, which was looted.

The measures were the outcome of meetings including de facto Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur, army chief Yussef al-Mangush, intelligence services head Salem al-Hassi as well as national assembly and local council members.

Meanwhile, the army issued an ultimatum ordering militias and armed groups to evacuate military compounds, state property and properties of members of the former regime, the official LANA news agency reported.

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It ordered "all individuals and armed groups occupying military barracks, public buildings or property belonging to members of the former regime or [Gadhafi's children] to evacuate these sites within 48 hours."

Hundreds of former rebels have taken over strategic, state-owned military and civilian facilities as well as the properties of supporters and leaders of the former regime in the wake of its fall.

Six members of the security forces were among those killed in the unrest that rocked Libya's second city.

The security force members appeared to have been executed, a medical examiner at the Benghazi Medical Centre morgue told AFP.

"In total we've received 11 fatalities" she said, including four bodies in "civilian clothes" and another that was found at the headquarters of Raf Allah al-Sahati.

Critics say militias in the eastern city have put themselves above the law, particularly those that refused to be placed under the authority of the defence ministry after the fall of the regime.

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The protesters first attacked a group based in a security building in central Benghazi before turning their wrath on the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia, a radical Salafist militia and the main paramilitary group in the city.

Ansar al-Sharia has been accused of – but denied – involvement in the murder of the four Americans in the U.S. consulate.

The militiamen took flight as hundreds of protesters stormed and then set their compound ablaze. They also evicted them from Al-Jalaa hospital where they were replaced by military police.

National assembly chief Mr. Megaryef initially welcomed the Benghazi protest but later urged the demonstrators to withdraw from the bases of loyal brigades.

Mr. Megaryef met military, tribal and political leaders in the city on Saturday, members of his entourage said.

As the violence expanded, Libyan authorities called on the demonstrators to distinguish between "illegitimate" brigades and those under state control, warning that neutralising loyal units risked causing "chaos."

The warning highlighted the dilemma facing the government a year after Col. Gadhafi's overthrow, with the fledgling security forces dependent on former rebels who fought in the uprising although such groups also challenge government authority.

The trigger for the assault on the paramilitaries was a "Save Benghazi" rally after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday that was attended by an estimated 30,000 peaceful demonstrators.

They paid tribute to Mr. Stevens and carried banners calling for justice to be done.

It drowned out a smaller rally of a few hundred people called by the jihadists and hardline Islamists furious over a the U.S.-made film and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by a French satirical magazine.

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