TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Thousands of protesters demonstrated Friday in Libya's capital to call on unlawful armed groups to leave the city, a week after militiamen killed 43 people during a march demanding the groups disband.
Since the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, hundreds of militias — many on the government payroll — have sprung up across Libya, carving out zones of power, defying state authority and launching violent attacks. The government has tried to incorporate them into the fledgling police force and army but failed amid growing popular outrage.
More than 7,000 protesters gathered in central Tripoli, near a downtown mosque, demanding that militias present in the capital leave the city. Some protesters carried banners reading: "We want an army and a police, we don't want militias."
Several armed groups hailing from other Libyan cities already left the capital Thursday, following a popular uproar sparked by the death of 43 protesters last week. They were killed by militiamen during a march demanding the militias leave.
Friday, the head of Tripoli's local council, Al-Sadat al-Badri, told the crowd the city will remain on strike until the capital and the area around it are free of militias.
"The general strike will continue, the civil disobedience movement will continue even if it lasts for a year," Al-Badri warned.
The vast majority of Tripoli's businesses and schools have been closed since Sunday, with the exception of bakeries, pharmacies, hospitals and gas stations.
Al-Badri called on authorities to provide security and stability. He said the council was monitoring the withdrawal of militias from Tripoli.
"We are following hour by hour the departure of the armed groups from our city," Al Badri said. "But I am saying it clearly, they must get out of the borders of greater Tripoli."
Several protesters wanted to march to the headquarters of remaining militias, but organizers prevented them for fear of renewed violence.
Meanwhile, dozens of armed assailants in the southern Tripoli neighborhood of Abu Salim tried to use a bulldozer to destroy a building housing a pro-government militia, said Essam al-Naas, a spokesman of the Tripoli Joint Operation Room, a security body under the prime minister. The militia was one of those that left Thursday.
Assailants fired rocket-propelled grenades at local residents who intervened to stop the attack, said Col. Hussein Abu Khatwa, the security head of Abu Salim.
A local hospital official said five were wounded in the clashes. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to brief journalists.
Libya's military swept into Tripoli on Monday in an operation to drive out the militiamen. The troops met a warm welcome from Libyans seething with anger against the numerous armed groups running rampant in the country.
The sweep was the most assertive yet by the military, but the government's armed forces and police remain weak and rely on allied militias for firepower.
Libya's militias originated in the "revolutionary" brigades that fought against Gadhafi's forces in 2011. Since his ouster and death, they have refused to disarm and have grown in size and power. Many continue to act as armed vigilante factions with their own interests, sometimes turning political feuds into armed conflicts.