LIBYA – NOTES ON TRIPOLI’S ‘BLACK FRIDAY’- 15TH NOVEMBER 2013
A report from Cairo carried by Asharq Al-Awsat dated 16th November 2013 states—‘At least 40 people have been killed and more than 400 injured in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after militiamen opened fire on protesters [in the Gharghur district] calling for their disbandment on Friday……The militia blamed for last week’s violence, which allegedly included the use of heavy weapons against unarmed civilian protesters, are based in the city of Misrata. In response to their expulsion from the capital, the Misratan governing council announced the suspension of the membership of the city’s representatives at the GNC, as well as members of the government. It also announced the withdrawal of all “revolutionaries” from Tripoli within 72 hours’.
Later the casualty figures were revised. It is believed that 47 people were killed and 508 injured. Sixty of the injured have been sent abroad for treatment. Other casualties are receiving treatment at private and public medical centers, 20 of whom are in very critical conditions and cannot be moved.
Ashraq Al-Awsat, in a report date Sunday 17th November 2013 stated – Residents of the Libyan capital launched a general strike Sunday over a militia violence that killed nearly 50 people this weekend.
The streets of Tripoli were deserted as the vast majority of the city’s businesses and schools were closed. Bakeries, pharmacies, hospitals and gas stations remained open. Sadat Al-Badri, who is head of Tripoli’s city council, said the strike is to last three days.
Armed residents set up checkpoints throughout the city to protect their neighborhoods, fearing renewed violence.
Libya’s state news agency LANA also said Sunday the Misrata militia accused of being responsible for Friday’s killing of 43 people at a protest abandoned its headquarters in the southern Tripoli neighborhood of Gharghur.
Late Saturday, a government-affiliated militia, the Libya Shield-Central Command, said it was in control of Gharghur. In a statement read on Libya’s private Al-Ahrar television channel, the militia declared it a military zone and vowed to turn it over to the government. The majority of Libya Shield’s militiamen also hail from Misrata
(It is worth noting here that at the end of June 2013 the General National Council passed Law 27 which states that ‘armed groups’ must leave Tripoli by the end of 2013. The law was passed because of constant armed clashes between rival militias.)
News of the terrible events in Tripoli on ‘Black Friday’ 15h November 2013 was carried on BBC TV. It is hard for those who do not live in Libya to understand the difficulties arising from the fall of the Gaddafi regime which bedevil ordinary Libyans. The major problem is the 1,700 or so militias which occupy the cities and towns throughout Libya in the absence of an effective police force or army. In this regard I wrote the following on 13th August 2013 and it may prove useful here:
“SOME NOTES ON THE ‘LIBYA SHIELD’ AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY
The 17th February Revolution which finally toppled Gaddafi from power started as an escalating street protest in Libya’s second city Benghazi. Gradually various street fighting groups acquired weapons and leadership and gelled into revolutionary brigades. In Benghazi some of the leadership was supplied by Islamists long suppressed by Gaddafi. A similar pattern emerged in the other centers where fighting was at its most intense, namely Zintan and Misrata., though in these last two Islamist influence was not as strong.
The fighting brigades managed to gain control over the large quantities of arms which Gaddafi had accumulated over the years. These included an especially large number of tanks which they learned to operate effectively. Thus the majority of weaponry is in their hands. To date the revolutionary brigades have not disbanded nor have they relinquished their weaponry despite a number of arms amnesties.
The brigades do not see themselves as militias but as Revolutionary Brigades of Thwars. Between them they control 80 percent of the battle hardened troops in Libya and around 80 percent of the weaponry. As do the British Army regiments, they have developed strong loyalties to their leadership and there peer-bonding is notably strong despite their varied backgrounds as students, workers, academics and professionals. They resemble the Boer Commandoes in the South African War and follow the ancient Libyan tribal ways in that their decision making processes is consensual.
The majority of Revolutionary Brigades are coordinated by local military councils. However, some brigades have broken from the majority in one way or another and operate lawlessly. They remain the main obstacle to peace in the country and are responsible for the majority of human rights violations.
In the aftermath of the revolution a security vacuum developed. Largely as a result a number of ‘Post Revolutionary’ brigades formed. They are often engaged in local violent conflicts.
There are a number of criminal groups which pose as Thwars. There are also extremist groups with Salfaist/Wahabi/Jihadist links which are gaining in importance in the post Gaddafi security vacuum. They are prominent in Benghazi and Derna. They may derive support from external sources but have little popular support.
So far the Revolutionary Brigades have steadfastly refused to amalgamate with the National Army the leadership of which they distrust and do not, by and large, respect. They have, therefore, formed a second Libyan Army called the Libya Shield. The control of the Libya Shield is ceded directly to the Chief of Staff of the Libya Army.
This means that, at the time of writing, the Chief of Staff has to try to lead two separate armies, the National Army and the Libya Shield.The later are still receiving pay from the government for services rendered. The Shield Brigades received a very large sum (900,000Libya Dinars) in back pay recently.”
The presence of Misratan Brigades in Tripoli needs some explanation. In early August this year there was a serious threat of an armed coup. In order to secure the government of Ali Zeidan it was decided to bring a number of militia brigades to aid of the civil powers. It was thus that Colonel Muhamed Musa commanding the Misratan Brigades of the Libyan Shield Force and others entered Tripoli on 11th August to forestall armed attempts to influence the democratic process of the General National Congress. According to the Libya Herald dated 11th August 2013 ‘More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions are reported to have arrived in Tripoli over the past four days. The troops have been deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force…………’
The Libyan government has promised a full report on the events of ‘Black Friday’. Some sources are suggesting that the protest was properly authorized but only for the al Aqsa Mosque/Abu Harida square. It appears to have moved from there to the Ghargur district without authorization or police protection. The Misuratans are complaining that some protesters were armed and opened fire on their militiaman. We will see.
26TH NOVEMBER 2013
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Read reports of events in Tripoli in Ashraq Al-Awsat.