One of Libya’s highest-ranking military officers resigned on Sunday after clashes between protesters and a government-aligned militia he was in charge of left 31 people dead in the eastern city of Benghazi, the deadliest such violence in a country where armed factions hold sway.
The bloodshed underscored the growing public anger over the government’s failure to build an army capable of reining in the militias that dominate parts of the country nearly two years after the fall of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The militias have become bolder in trying to shape Libya’s politics.
The violence erupted on Saturday, when protesters in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city, stormed the main camp of Libya Shield, a largely Islamist grouping of militias that are paid by the government to help maintain security. The protesters were demanding that the militias submit to the full authority of Libya’s security forces or lay down their arms.
The clashes prompted Army Chief of Staff Major General Youssef al-Mangoush to resign, citing the unusually high death toll from the violence. Al-Mangoush was due to be replaced soon, and the Libyan Congress voted in support of accepting his resignation on Sunday.
He was in charge of the country’s 12 Libya Shield brigades, tasked with putting them on government payroll and directing them. The brigades, though sanctioned by the state, operate as a parallel security structure to the country’s police and armed forces. Libya Shield members are neither entirely under the authority of the state nor operating entirely renegade.
Libya’s nascent police and military rely on the brigades to help with security of the country. The militias are rooted in the brigades of rebels who fought to oust Qaddafi in the 2011 uprising against the longtime leader. They have since mushroomed in power and size as the government continues to struggle to build its security forces after the civil war.
In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s incident, military officers had been protesting against al-Mangoush, accusing him of corruption and of failing to exert authority over militias. Some militias were believed to have favored al-Mangoush remaining in his post, because he had been unable or possibly unwilling to replace them with a strong unified force.