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Benghazi protesters force Islamists from headquarters

Protesters have overrun the headquarters of an Islamist militia in the eastern city of Benghazi. Libyan authorities have accused Ansar al-Shariah of assassinating the US ambassador, a charge the militia has denied.

Hundreds of demonstrators sacked the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah in Benghazi on Saturday, and then marched on several other militia compounds in the city, in a display of anger over the lawlessness that has characterized Libya since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi's regime in 2011.

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Demonstrations against Islamist militia

The protesters pulled down the militia's flag and set a vehicle on fire inside the compound, which served as the headquarters for Gadhafi's forces in Benghazi before the revolution. Anti-government Ansar al-Shariah militants were forced to retreat, as military police loyal to Tripoli moved in to replace them.

On Thursday, US officials publicly acknowledged for the first time that Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American officials had been killed in a terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

Previously, Washington had maintained that the embassy officials had been killed in a spontaneous outburst of violence over the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims," which was produced in the US and has triggered violent demonstrations throughout the Islamic world.

Libyan authorities have blamed Ansar Al-Shariah, which has been accused of having ties to al Qaeda, for the assault on the consulate. The Islamist militia has denied involvement in Ambassador Stevens' death, but has not condemned the attack.

"After what happened at the American consulate, the people of Benghazi had enough of the extremists," Hassan Ahmed, a demonstrator, told the Reuters news agency. "They did not give allegiance to the army. So the people broke in and they fled."

'Save Benghazi'

After seizing Ansar al-Shariah's headquarters, thousands of demonstrators also marched on bases belonging to militias loyal to the Libyan government.

Demonstrators cheer after storming the headquarters of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia group in Benghazi September 21, 2012. Libyan Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia was swept from its final major military base in Benghazi in the early hours of Saturday after a mass popular uprising in support of the government, Reuters witnesses said. The word on the Libyan flag reads: Libya. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih (LIBYA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST)

Demonstrators cheer after storming the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia

Four people were reportedly killed in clashes between the Raf Allah al-Sahati Brigade and protesters, as they tried to seize the militia's compound. Some 70 protesters also reportedly seized the barracks belonging to the Martyrs of Abu Slim Brigade.

The move against the militias came after a massive peaceful protest called "Save Benghazi," in which some 30,000 people took to the streets on Friday after the weekly Muslim prayers. The demonstrators paid tribute to Ambassador Stevens and demanded that the Libyan government exert control over the country's many militias, which operate with a large degree of independence.

Since the collapse of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, the revolutionary militias - armed with weapons from the deceased dictator's massive arms stockpiles - have largely filled the security vacuum in lieu of the weak central government in Tripoli.

slk/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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