One killed in shooting near Libyan PM's compound

TRIPOLI Tue May 8, 2012 2:04pm EDT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - One person was killed and several injured on Tuesday when militiamen protesting outside the Libyan prime minister's office started shooting, highlighting the country's volatility a month before its first election.

Witnesses and officials said the militiamen, from Libya's western mountains, were at the prime minister's compound to demand cash from the government when the protest turned violent.

Government spokesman Nasser El-Manee told a news conference one person from the government security forces was killed. He said four people were injured, of which three were from the security forces and one was a demonstrator.

A security guard inside the building earlier told a Reuters reporter he believed four people had been killed.

"Freedom does not mean chaos," Manee said. "We hope there will be no more fatalities like this."

Manee said a small group of protesters had arrived in front of the compound, a short distance from Tripoli city centre, in the morning, calling for payment for former fighters, better treatment for the war wounded and other demands.

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Government officials, including the defense minister, tried to negotiate with them but the protesters forced their way into the compound, he said.

When forces from the interior ministry arrived and tried to get them to leave, gunfire broke out and all employees inside were evacuated.

"There were about 200 demonstrators with about 50 vehicles," Manee said. "At one point they pointed weapons at the building. There is damage in some places."

A security official said 14 of the protesters were arrested.

Some bursts of gunfire could be heard outside the compound during the news conference but it was not clear where it was coming from.

The guard said interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib was at a meeting elsewhere when the shooting happened.

Earlier, Reuters reporters outside the compound heard sporadic gunfire, including from large-caliber weapons. Security forces cordoned off the area and ambulances could be seen. After about 30 minutes the shooting died out and the cordon was lifted.

The prime minister's office is frequently the focus of protests by disgruntled militiamen demanding cash or jobs in recognition of the role they played in last year's revolt to oust Muammar Gaddafi.

Many are armed and occasionally their protests turn violent. Tuesday's clashes were the first time a death had been reported.

Libya is due to hold its first free election next month to choose an assembly to draft a constitution. People have started to register to vote, a novelty in a country where Gaddafi banned elections for 40 years.

There is a risk that the lack of security will jeopardize the election. The government is struggling to assert its authority over dozens of militias who refuse to disarm and take orders only from their own commanders.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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