TRIPOLI, Libya — A gunbattle between rival militias erupted in the Libyan capital Wednesday, illustrating how Libya's new rulers have so far failed to put their stamp on their country and bring it under control.
No one was hurt in the bizarre standoff. Witnesses say remnants of fighting groups from the towns of Misrata and Zintan faced off in downtown Tripoli over control of a sports complex on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
The two sides fired rifles and heavy machine guns, witnesses said, but mostly in the air, shattering the complex's windows and damaging a number of nearby cars. After about an hour, Tripoli's high security council, which is under the Interior Ministry, blocked off the area and took control of the building.
The skirmish was part of a larger battle between the two groups over control of sensitive spots like the airport. The Misrata brigade had been camped out in the sports complex and the Zintan brigade tried to take it from them, witnesses said.
Brigades from both cities played key roles in the bloody eight-month civil war that ended with the capture and killing of Moammar Gadhafi in October, but they have since refused to submit to the new authorities.
Since the overthrow of Gadhafi's regime last year, Libya's new leaders have struggled to impose their authority on the vast country of 6 million people. One of the greatest challenges still facing the leadership is how to rein in the dozens of revolutionary militias that arose during the war and now are reluctant to disband or give up their weapons.
The government has started a program to encourage the militiamen to turn in their arms in exchange for benefits like education and jobs, but it has not put an end to the almost constant clashes involving rival groups.
Also, forces loyal to the deposed regime have been attacking troops from the new regime, adding another layer of chaos.