Demonstrations began on Sunday in Tripoli, seat of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), against poor public services and living conditions. While police have monitored the protests, gunmen on Wednesday attacked a peaceful demonstration by “firing live ammunition indiscriminately,” said Fathi Bashagha, the GNA interior minister.
Libya’s government in Tripoli on Thursday warned it would use force against militia gunmen who broke up peaceful protests by firing at crowds the day before.
The gunmen also kidnapped demonstrators, “sowing panic among the population and threatening security and public order,” Bashagha said. He promised to “protect unarmed civilians from the brutality of a gang of thugs” and said he was ready to use force to do so.
Libya has endured almost a decade of violent chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi. The country’s main military fault line is between forces that back the GNA, and those that support eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, who runs a rival administration. But there are also power struggles within each area. The GNA in Tripoli has a regular police force but also relies on a coalition of militia forces, over which it has varying degrees of control. Deprived of the most basic services in their daily lives, Libyans have been exhausted by years of conflict.
Amnesty International said that at least six people were abducted at Sunday’s protest, and has called for their release. The London-based rights group said the weekend attack was carried out by “unidentified armed men wearing military-style camouflage clothes” who fired live ammunition to disperse protesters, including from heavy truck-mounted guns. GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj has called for a probe into “violations” committed against the protesters, and ordered the release of those not involved in acts of “vandalism”.