Six Libyan soldiers killed in Benghazi violence

BENGHAZI, Libya Sat Jun 15, 2013 8:57pm EDT

1 of 5. Burned offices of the First Infantry Brigade are pictured after they were burned by protesters, in Benghazi June 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori (LIBYA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST)

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BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Six soldiers were killed and five injured in clashes between Libyan special forces and armed protesters outside a special forces base in the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday, military officials said on Saturday.

Residents said heavy gunfire and explosions were heard.

"The clashes lasted from 2 a.m. (0000 GMT) until 6 a.m. but are over now," Colonel Mohammed Sharif, of the special forces in Benghazi, told Reuters. He said six of his troops had been killed and another military official said five other soldiers were wounded.

It was not immediately clear who the protesters were and if any had been killed.

Last week at least 31 people were killed and 100 injured in clashes between armed protesters, eventually backed by special forces, and a militia in the city.

The protesters had been demanding the disbanding of independent militias, and clashed with one of them - the Libya Shield brigade, which fought to oust former leader Muammar Gaddafi and now says it is aligned with the defense ministry.

Several mosques condemned the protest against Libya Shield at Friday prayers and that may have spurred a reaction among the militia's supporters, a senior defense ministry source said.

Libya Shield commanders were not immediately reachable for comment.

Hours before the latest fighting in Benghazi, a group of men forced their way into a different army compound to steal weapons, residents said.

And in a separate incident, an army sergeant was killed in an ambush on a military convoy in the southern Shaati area on Friday, a military official said. The assailants had tried to steal the military vehicles but fled after fighting broke out.

Libya remains anarchic and awash with weapons nearly two years after Gaddafi was toppled. Tensions have been rising between militias and the government, which is still struggling to assert its authority.

A commander for special forces in the southern desert town of Sabha said more troops would be sent to Benghazi to boost the military presence in the city.

(Additional reporting by Ghaith Shennib in Tripoli; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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