Libyan militiamen storm luxury Tripoli hotel

TRIPOLI Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:20am EDT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Armed militiamen stormed a Turkish-owned hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli, firing shots and detaining its Turkish manager in a dispute over an unpaid bill, an employee said, highlighting the continuing volatility in the North African country.

The employee, who declined to be named, said no one was hurt in the incident at the luxury Rixos hotel where foreign reporters visiting Tripoli during last year's uprising were obliged to stay by Muammar Gaddafi's government.

The trouble started late on Saturday when a member of a brigade from the western town of Zintan lost his temper after he was asked to leave over an unpaid bill dating back to September.

"He shot twice into the air and broke vases in the lobby. Then his men stormed in," the employee said, as he pointed to a bullet hole in the ceiling of the reception area.

Militiamen then rushed off in their cars, taking the Turkish hotel manager with them. He was released after a few hours.

The incident came at a time when Libya's new rulers are struggling to impose authority on a myriad of armed groups ahead of Libya's first free elections scheduled for June.

Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al has warned the militias to put down their arms or face confrontation with the new national security forces.

Officials at the Turkish embassy in Tripoli declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the brigade.

The militias spearheaded the rebellion which ousted Gaddafi last year. Some of them still occupy government buildings and man checkpoints while answering only to their own commanders.

International rights groups and the United Nations have identified the militias as one of the biggest challenges to stability as Libya tries to build new institutions after 42 years of Gaddafi's rule.

(Reporting By Taha Zargoun; Writing By Hadeel Al-Shalchi Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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