Gun battles on outskirts of Tripoli leave 13 dead

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RIVAL militias clashed on the outskirts of the Libyan capital for a fourth day yesterday in the most sustained violence since the capture and killing of Muammar al-Gaddafi last month.

The fighting, which has killed at least 13 people since late last week, raised new concerns about the ability of Libya’s transitional government to disarm thousands of fighters and restore order after an eight-month civil war.

The pro-government militia in Zawiya has launched a string of attacks to secure roadblocks from rival militias from the Wershefana tribe.

Zawiya Military Council said eight of its fighters have died and at least four were wounded in the clashes. A spokesman claimed they were fighting “Gaddafi supporters”.

Wershefanans protested in Tripoli last night insisting they were loyal to the new government and blaming militant elements from Zawiya for the battle. The battles highlight the continuing insecurity in a country with competing militias whose territories overlap.

Even as fighting raged yesterday, the NTC said it had no comment to make. Tripoli continues to see sporadic clashes between militias. Two weeks ago, rebels from the southern city of Zintan clashed with local fighters when they tried to arrest a man accused of being pro-Gaddafi in the city’s main hospital.

There is also confusion over who controls Tripoli itself. Hakim Bilhaj, a former Islamic revolutionary and detainee of Guantanamo Bay, is the government-appointed security chief of the city. A controversial figure, Mr Bilhaj insists he is committed to democracy and is not an extremist. But power appears to be contested by commanders of local Tripoli militias who are asserting their grip over districts.