Benghazi clashes kill 6 soldiers amid warnings of imminent ‘bloodbath’

Benghazi clashes kill 6 soldiers amid warnings of imminent ‘bloodbath’
Libyan Special Forces fought with armed protesters in Benghazi in clashes that killed six soldiers, officials report. The flashpoint city has been hit by a wave of bloody protests recently demanding the disbandment of militia groups.

Violence erupted during Friday night and continued into the morning with witness reports of explosions and heavy gunfire throughout the city.

"The clashes lasted from 2am (00:00 GMT) until 6am, but are over now,"
Colonel Mohammed Sharif, of the Special Forces in Benghazi, told Reuters. The six soldiers were killed in clashes with armed protesters outside a military base in the city.

Prior to the clashes a group of enraged protesters stormed a former militia base on Friday evening, ejecting a brigade of rebel fighters. Officials say the demonstrators also torched two military vehicles in the process.

Tensions have been escalating in Benghazi between the population and the various militia groups left behind after they aided in the ouster of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011. Last week, at least 31 people were killed in clashes after members of the militia group, the Libyan Shield Brigade opened fire on protesters demonstrating outside their base.

The army's Thunderbolt Special Forces brigade arrived to impose order, but was sucked into the violence.

"The Libya Shield don't follow orders, we don't even know whose orders they follow,"
said Thunderbolt Brigade lieutenant Said Alari to The Guardian.

Following the unrest, the Libyan interim government ordered the seizure of four Islamist militia bases around Benghazi. However, very few believe the militia will willingly disband.

Youths look into the engine of a burnt-out vehicle used by the Libyan Army's First Infantry Brigade, one of two military vehicles set on fire by protesters, in Benghazi June 14, 2013. (Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori)

‘Bloodbath’

On Friday evening, the interim head of the army, Salem Konidi, warned on state TV that if Libyan Special Forces were attacked, “there will be a bloodbath.”

"There could be a catastrophe in Benghazi,” he said and urged the city authorities to act to reign in the situation before it gets out of hand.

Libya’s interim government has failed to bring the country’s many militia groups to heel over the last two years following the removal of Gaddafi. The militia groups are often heavily armed and enforce their authority in the rural communities where they have entrenched themselves.

The militia groups have slammed the interim government for employing former Gaddafi officials. Back in March, militias laid siege to the congress with pickup trucks mounted with machine guns. The blockaded the building and held members of the General National Congress (GNC) – the legislative authority of Libya – inside parliament for hours.

People gather around a burnt-out vehicle used by the Libyan Army's First Infantry Brigade, one of two military vehicles set on fire by protesters, in Benghazi June 14, 2013. (Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori)