Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- At least four people were killed in fighting in Benghazi as unarmed protesters tried to capture a base of the Islamist militia blamed by some Libyan officials for involvement in the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
More than 70 were injured in the clashes, the state-run Libyan news agency LANA said, citing health officials. In a separate report, the agency said five corpses of National Army members were found in Benghazi.
Crowds earlier took control of a base of the Ansar al- Sharia group inside Benghazi and one used by a second militia, after a day of demonstrations against the government over its alleged failure to discipline fighters.
“We have to rid Benghazi of the militias,” said 21-year- old manager Hamza Gehani, a protester who helped storm the Abu Salem base. “We need only the army and police, we do not need the militias.”
Tensions in Benghazi have risen since the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate and a second accommodation site that resulted in the deaths of four diplomats. Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur said Sept. 20 that eight Libyan nationals were arrested in connection with the consulate assault and Ansar al- Shariah was one of the groups thought to be involved.
The president of Libya’s parliament, Mohammed Yussef Magariaf, who blamed Ansar al-Sharia for involvement in the attack on the consulate, asked protesters today to return to their homes after “successfully evacuating the illegal militias.” The comments were aired on Libyan television.
A crowd of several thousand people gathered in Benghazi yesterday at a Rally to Save Benghazi, called to demand that government forces disarm militias including Ansar al-Sharia.
When the protest finished, groups of youths moved to two nearby militia bases, one used by Ansar al-Sharia, and occupied them. There was little resistance and units of police and military police secured both bases.
Shortly after 11 p.m. local time, large groups of protesters in civilian cars drove to a second Ansar al-Sharia base at Hwari, on the southern outskirts of Benghazi.
Units inside the base opened fire on the demonstrators, said Mohammed El Gadari, an aviation student, who witnessed the shooting.
Traffic jams around the base hampered ambulances and private cars conveying the wounded to city hospitals. Army and police units, some with pick-up trucks mounting anti-aircraft guns, struggled through the traffic to deploy around the base just after midnight local time.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the attack on the consulate compound a “terrorist attack.”
--With assistance from Paul Tighe in Sydney, Saleh Sarrar in Dubai and Brigitte Scheffer in Tripoli. Editors: Paul Tighe, Guy Collins