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By Oliver Holmes
TRIPOLI Feb 1 Rival militias fought a
gunbattle near office buildings and a five-star hotel in the
centre of the Libyan capital on Wednesday, underscoring how
volatile the country still is three months on from Muammar
A Reuters reporter said exchanges of both heavy and light
weapons could be heard coming from the Tripoli district of
El-Saadi beach, a stretch of Mediterranean coast overlooked by
office skyscrapers and the Marriott Hotel.
Ambulance sirens could be heard and plumes of smoke rose
from the area of the fighting, which had been continuing for at
least 40 minutes.
Interior Ministry forces had blocked a one kilometre section
of road alongside the beach, but they did not appear to be
intervening. Two militia pick-up trucks, with anti-aircraft guns
on the back, drove past towards the fighting.
An Interior Ministry official said the fighting was between
militiamen from the city of Misrata, and units from Zintan. Both
groups fought to oust Gaddafi and now use their military power
to underwrite a campaign for influence in the new Libya.
"There are two groups fighting," said the official, Naji
Awad, who was monitoring the battle from near the Marriott
Hotel. "Misrata controls a police academy building up the road
and they are fighting with Zintan. We do not know why they are
fighting," he said.
Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) is
struggling to impose its authority on the country and form a
functioning national police force and army.
Heavily-armed militias have stepped into the vacuum. They
have carved the country into local fiefdoms and their fighters,
though they express loyalty to the NTC, answer only to their own
Several militias from outside the capital have set up bases
in Tripoli. They clash with each other intermittently often
because of disputes over who controls which neighbourhoods of
The violence on Wednesday was the first time in weeks that a
major gunbattle had broken out right in the centre of the
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Rosalind Russell)