About 500 protesters broke into the grounds of Libya’s parliament building on Sunday to demand an end to violence in Bani Walid, a former stronghold of late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi that is being shelled by militiamen from a rival town.
Militias, many from Misrata and aligned with the Libyan Ministry of Defense, have been shelling the hilltop town of 70,000 people for several days. State news agency LANA said on Sunday that 22 people had been killed and 200 wounded in the fighting.
“We are here to demand the government find a peaceful solution for the tribal war that is happening in Bani Walid,” protester Nasser Ehdein said.
Libya’s new rulers have held elections, but have struggled to impose their authority on a country awash with weapons a year after Qaddafi was killed and the fighting in Bani Walid underscored how tenuous their control remains.
In a country where rumors abound, there were also conflicting reports over the weekend about the fate of Qaddafi’s son Khamis, and that of the late autocrat’s former spokesman.
In Tripoli, an unarmed group of male and female protesters forced their way past security guards at the gates of the grounds of the parliament buildings, chanting: “There is no God but God, and [Libyan] President [Mohammed] Magarief is God’s enemy.”
Security forces fired rounds into the air as they held their positions at the doors of the building, while elected members of the General National Congress met inside.
Ehdein said most of the protesters were residents of Tripoli who had family in or hailed from Bani Walid. This is the second time protesters have broken into the grounds of the assembly since it took power in the summer.
The first time was on Oct. 4, when a group of protesters who believed their town was underrepresented in a proposed Libyan government stormed the assembly as it prepared to scrutinize the prime minister-elect’s nominations.
In the port city of Benghazi, anger boiled over on Sunday night when about 400 unarmed, but angry protesters stormed the grounds of private Libyan satellite channel Libya al-Ahrar.
The protesters demanded that the channel air photographic evidence that Qaddafi’s son Khamis had been killed in battle. Libyan officials had announced he had been killed in fighting in Bani Walid, but that has not been confirmed.
Demonstrators said they were furious over what they deemed a false rumor, saying it had helped fuel violence in Bani Walid and stir up tribal enmity.
Bani Walid was one of the towns that remained loyal to Qaddafi the longest. It remains isolated from the rest of Libya and former rebels say there are still pockets of support for the old government there.
In Bani Walid itself, 140km south of Tripoli, militia leader Abdelkarim Ghomaid said fighting was in full swing.
“The shelling is coming from all sides,” he said by telephone.
A Bani Walid resident said by telephone: “Fighting is continuing today. There is smoke rising over certain parts of the city.”
Outside Bani Walid, hundreds of vehicles lined up in the village of Weshtata, 80km from Tripoli, waiting to be checked by government forces as families fled the fighting.
“We are escaping the danger of the rockets, the shrapnel and the deaths inside. There hasn’t been electricity for days,” said one man with his family in a pick-up truck.
A feud between Misrata and Bani Walid was inflamed by the death of rebel Omran Shaban after he was detained for two months in Bani Walid. Shaban, from Misrata, was the man who found Qaddafi hiding in a drain pipe in Sirte on Oct. 20 last year. Libya’s congress ordered the defense and interior ministries to find those responsible for abducting Shaban and suspected of torturing him. It gave Bani Walid a deadline to hand them over.