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Libyans protest against out-of-control militias

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ESAM MOHAMED | November 8, 2013 02:00 PM EST | AP

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TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Dozens of protesters marched in Libya's capital Friday, demonstrating against the out-of-control militias plaguing the country after a late-night battle between two warring factions in Tripoli killed three people.

Protesters said they'd give militias stationed in the capital three days before marching on their headquarters and forcing them out.

Raising banners that read "Tripoli without weaponry." protesters called upon the interim government to implement an earlier decision to bring the militias under control. The militias face an end-of-year deadline to disband or join the Libyan security forces, at the risk of losing their government salaries.

After the killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, former rebels formed armed groups to provide protection amid a security vacuum. They later mushroomed in number and now fight over power and influence.

The protests came after intense clashes erupted Thursday night between two rival militias in the heart of Tripoli. The head of Tripoli City Council, al-Sadat al-Badri, told reporters that the clashes killed three people and left four others in critical condition.

"There is a consensus among all that the capital is for everyone — but not militias," he said. There will be "no development and no progress without emptying the capital of weapons."

"We don't want a small armed group control us," he added.

The fighting Thursday began after a militia commander from the western city of Misrata died of wounds he suffered in fighting earlier in the week. Dozens of Misrata militiamen, some riding in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, drove into Tripoli to attack their rivals.

The clashes forced drivers to abandon their cars and run for their lives. Many closed shops while others fled their homes after bullets struck their apartment buildings. Bullets also shattered the windows of a luxury hotel. Sporadic gunfire could be heard into early Friday morning.

Sheik Amohammed Idris al-Maghrabi, an elder cleric of the Shura Council of Libya Wise Men — which plays a role in settling conflicts among tribes and cities — said that what happened overnight "scared off residents" and was "irresponsible."