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Mortar attack on protest rally in Benghazi, Libya, leaves nine dead

Mortar rounds have been fired into a protest rally in the east Libyan city of Benghazi. Coming from an Islamist-held district, the shells killed 9 and injured 35 people protesting a plan for a new unity government.

Several hundred people were protesting the

United Nations-backed peace plan

for a new unity government in Benghazi on Friday. Officials said a series of mortars were fired in the second deadly attack on an anti-Islamist rally this week.

Friday's demonstrators, who included Mayor Omar al-Barasi, were protesting against the UN-brokered talks with Islamists and the special UN envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon.

The plan came from a year of talks between the Islamist-backed parliament in Tripoli and the internationally recognized administration in the east. Both parliaments - each backed by rival militia groups - are to vote on the deal, but many lawmakers have already dismissed the plan for unity. They argue the plan is premature.

Last month envoy Leon spoke out against what he called army chief General Khalifa Hifter's military escalation against Benghazi's Islamists as "a clear attempt to undermine" dialogue. His comments brought strong, negative reaction from residents of the city.

UN condemns attack

On Friday, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) strongly condemned Friday's attack and called on "Libyans to reject violence as a means to settle political differences."

"Stability in Benghazi is key to Libya's overall stability, and the latest attack underscores the urgent need to bring peace to Libya," the UNSMIL statement continued.

After the ousting and death of former leader Moammar Ghaddafi in 2011, elections for a General National Congress were held in 2012. An interim government was tasked with preparing for a new constitution and parliamentary elections. But tension between nationalists and Islamists was exacerbated by fighting between rival militias. Last year the government collapsed, and the United Nations has been working to bring political factions together.

The attacks came the same week that former US Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate

Hillary Clinton testified in Congress

to a panel investigating the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

jm/bw (Reuters, AFP)

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