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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Violence Surges In Libya’s Capitol

This footage from the BBC shows armed militias on Tripoli's streets. The city is seeing the worst violence since the deposition of Muamar Gadafi. (BBC)

This footage from the BBC shows armed militias on Tripoli’s streets. The city is seeing the worst violence since the deposition of Muammar Gadafi. (BBC)

Libya’s capital city Tripoli is seeing some of the worst violence since the country’s longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed two years ago.

The surge in violence involves the militias who led the revolution against Gaddafi.

They won’t disarm and Libya’s prime minister says he needs international help to get them to put down their weapons.


  • Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor for the BBC. He tweets @BowenBBC.



Today, heavily armed militias left the Libyan capital Tripoli nearly a week after a mass protest against their presence. The militias, which helped topple Libya's former leader Moammar Gadhafi, are accused of contributing to lawlessness in the country after the revolution in 2011. The BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports from Tripoli.


JEREMY BOWEN: Just outside Tripoli, an elderly Soviet-era MIG fighter did a stately fly-past over the latest recruits to the Libyan security forces. These men marching across the barracks' square were trained by Italians; others are going to Britain to learn how to be soldiers.


BOWEN: In this passing-out parade, there are some very energetic displays of martial arts, of extreme gymnastics, one man jumping over human barriers, showing off their bravery and their skill. And they're well-drilled. The question is whether all this, this brave attempt at organization, is going to survive its first contact with the confusion outside the walls of this barracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language).

BOWEN: A father who wants to remain anonymous because he's scared of reprisals talked about how his son was kidnapped by a militia. Effective central government, law, order and justice are aspirations in the new Libya. His son is still missing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translation) The problems we have got now weren't there in Gadhafi's time: the militias, the spread of weapons. We live under the gun now. You leave the house scared, and you come home scared. You are not safe on the streets. There aren't any courts. Instead there is the role of the militias. They implement their own laws. They are the judge and the jury.

BOWEN: This is an outpost of the Tripoli Operations Group an armed group who proclaim their loyalty to the prime minister. They look well-trained, but they're no match for the mess of militias, tribes and city-states who have been the real power in the land since the fall of Gadhafi. Repeated proposals to absorb militias into the new armed forces haven't worked.

It's 8 o'clock in the evening, and in this headquarters they're getting ready to go on patrol. Men are picking up their weapons, bulletproof jackets, helmets and preparing to go out into what is a wet night here in Tripoli. They park their pickup trucks with the heavy weapons on the back, and they've set up checkpoints. One Libyan here has just said to me if every checkpoint in the country was like this, we wouldn't have any problems.

The difficulty, he said, is that they're not like this. Security is a real issue in Libya. Salah al-Maghani is visibly weighed down by the strain of trying to change this country. In 2011, he was an optimistic human rights lawyer; now he's justice minister. He says he's still hopeful, but he's deeply worried by the way some militias are using the old regime's methods.

SALAH AL-MAGHANI: I think we failed the Libyan people on realizing how difficult it would be to deal with the fallout from the revolution. A revenge is taking place, allowing for security to deteriorate. We need to do more. If we just do the opposite thing of Gadhafi, we will be there. We should not repeat the mistakes of that regime under a different flag.


BOWEN: Another part of the complex, violent legacy of Colonel Gadhafi is the dangerous glut of weapons all looted from his armories. A survey paid for by Britain found that there are 80 to 100 times as many loose weapons in Libya than in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.


BOWEN: In the last 10 days, Tripoli has suffered its worst violence since the fall of Gadhafi.


BOWEN: The fledgling parliament is struggling to agree on the political way ahead via a new constitution and elections. One positive, this country has more than enough militias and guns for an all-out civil war, but it hasn't happened. If that doesn't change, by Libyan standards, it's enough to keep some hope alive.


HOBSON: That was the BBC's Jeremy Bowen, reporting from Tripoli, Libya.


Fascinating story there from Libya, Jeremy. Here's a quick check on some other international news stories we're following, particularly in The Philippines, where rescue and recovery efforts are ongoing following Typhoon Haiyan. But they've been disrupted by the bitter rivalry between the country's political clans. That story and more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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