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Libya army says to control Benghazi militia bases

Libya's army will take control of a militia's bases in the eastern city of Benghazi after clashes in which 31 people were killed, an army spokesman said on Sunday.

Fighting broke out on Saturday at the headquarters of the Libya Shield brigade when protesters demanded the disbanding of the militias, whose continued existence nearly two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi is fuelling public resentment.

Order was only restored in Libya's second city after special forces seized the compound of the militia, which said it was operating with official approval.

Libya Shield is an umbrella group of brigades with bases in Benghazi, cradle of Libya's 2011 uprising. It is among the armed groups on which authorities have been relying to help keep order in the country awash with weapons.

"The national army has been ordered to take control of the bases of Libya Shield," Ali al-Sheikhi, spokesman for the army chief of staff, told Reuters. "This is what the people want."

It was not immediately clear when the army would take over the bases or whether the Libya Shield brigades would cooperate.

"What army can take control? There is no army but Libya Shield," Ismail Salabi, a commander in Libya Shield, told Reuters.

The army spokesman said colonels would take charge of the bases. That was confirmed by Abdullah al-Shaafi, spokesman for the Benghazi security operations room.

Any decision on disbanding the brigades could only be taken by the national assembly, army spokesman Sheikhi said.

Thirty-one people were killed and more than 100 wounded in Benghazi on Saturday, a doctor at al-Jalaa hospital said. The identity of the dead was unclear, but a military source said at least five soldiers were among them.

Resentment against the militias has built since armed groups laid siege to ministries in Tripoli last month to press their demands.

Anger at the militias surged in Benghazi last September after the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in an attack on the U.S. mission there.

[Source: Reuters, Benghazi, 09Jun13]

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