Several Libyan soldiers have been killed near the headquarters of a special forces unit during clashes with armed protesters. The head of Libya's army warned of a "bloodbath" as forces try to reign in militias.
Renewed violence erupted in the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday when Libyan government troops and gunmen exchanged small-arms and rocket fire, leaving at least six soldiers dead.
Witnesses in the area reported heavy gunfire and explosions near the Libyan special forces' headquarters in the Al-Lithi district of Benghazi, which lies on the road to the airport not far from the city center. The special forces confirmed on Facebook that at least three of their members had died in the violence, warning that they would target anyone who fires on them.
The Defense Ministry sent reinforcements from the capital, Tripoli, to Benghazi, according to the dpa news agency. The ministry vowed to respond strongly to any violence, saying that it "will not tolerate attacks on police and army offices or public property in Libya."
The clashes came just hours after protesters had stormed an army base in Benghazi, burning two vehicles before moving on to a barracks. The First Infantry Brigade was forced to withdraw from its headquarters as protesters seized the building.
'There will be a bloodbath'
The mob then went on to attack a police station, an office of Libya's border guards as well as other facilities belonging to the First Infantry Brigade.
Last weekend, clashes between a militia aligned with the government and protesters left 31 people dead. Libya's army chief, General Yusef al-Mangoush, resigned last Sunday as a consequence of the violence. Salem al-Konidi is now serving as the interim head of the army.
Al-Konidi warned on Saturday that "there will be a bloodbath" if Libya's special forces are targeted, saying that "there could be a catastrophe in Benghazi."
Libya's government has struggled to control the multitude of independent militias who formed to overthrow the dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Last September, Islamist extremists attacked the US consulate facility in Benghazi, killing US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
slk/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)