Protesters in Benghazi’s Freedom Square on Tuesday. The sign in the middle reads, “Army + police = Libya’s security”. THe sign on the right reads, "No to militias in Libya."
The cause of Monday's explosion in Benghazi that killed three people, including a child, remains murky. After suspecting a car bomb detonated by terrorists, authorities are now considering the idea that it was simply an accident. Whatever the case may be, protesters who marched through the city on Tuesday blamed local militias for letting Benghazi’s security deteriorate to the point that such a tragedy could occur.
On Monday, a car exploded in a parking lot next to Al-Jala hospital, damaging nearby cars and buildings. Interior Minister Ashur Shwayel said Tuesday that “all signs point to an accidental explosion.” Benghazi city councillor Tarik Bozribe, meanwhile, told Reuters that the vehicle belonged to a fisherman who was carrying explosives used to snare catch.
Unlike bombings carried out at four Benghazi police stations in recent days, which damaged property but claimed no victims, this explosion took place in broad daylight.
Most militias in Benghazi, which are mainly made up of former rebels who fought during the revolution, officially work under the army’s orders. However, in practice, they are difficult to control, and follow their own agendas. Some militias, like the Islamist group Ansar Al-Sharia – which was blamed for the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in which ambassador Chris Stevens was killed – work entirely on their own.
"The government needs to take power out of the hands of the militias and strengthen the police and the army”
Abdulhameed Amrooni is one of the bloggers of the Libyablog network, a project run jointly by FRANCE 24 and RFI. He works as a radio journalist in Benghazi for Ajwa News.
I went to the scene of the explosion on Monday – there was blood and body parts all over the parking lot. Lots of people had gathered to try to help, and also express their anger. Some people believed this might have been carried out by Islamists, in particular by the Islamist militia Ansar Al-Sharia.However, during Tuesday’s protest, in which hundreds of people marched symbolically from Freedom Square to a cemetery, most people seemed to have abandoned this theory: first, because Ansar Al-Sharia denied any involvement, but also because they had had some time to think about it more: why would Ansar Al-Sharia target civilians in their own city? [This militia in fact secured Al-Jala hospital in the past, following a fight in which a patient was killed.] Some believe the theory that it is accidental, which seems quite possible to me, since tons of people here carry weapons of all sorts in their vehicles. However, many others think it’s a strange coincidence that this explosion happened right after a string of police station bombings. Another theory people are floating about is that a bomb could have been planted by people working for [Syrian president] Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, to scare the West out of helping the rebellion in Syria.But whatever theory the protesters believed, their anger was mainly directed at Benghazi’s militias. Many people feel that the security situation here is out of control, and that the government needs to take power out of the hands of the militias and strengthen the police and the army. Without this, they think the country will just keep going downhill.This sign reads, “No to militias, yes to the national army”.“Benghazi residents feel the government cares only about Tripoli, and are increasingly calling for more autonomy”I also heard protesters shouting in favour of federalism, that is, giving eastern Libya a degree of autonomy. When two government officials came out to meet the protesters to express their sorrow at the loss of life, people in the crowd yelled, “You’re liars, go back to your offices in Tripoli”. Before [former Libyan leader] Muammar Gaddafi took power, Libya had two capitals: Tripoli and Benghazi. He made Tripoli the capital and left Benghazi by the wayside. Today still, people in Benghazi feel like the government only cares about Tripoli – that’s where all the decisions are made, and also where the money is concentrated [even though most of the country’s oil wealth comes from the east’s oil fields]. Under a federalist system, Benghazi residents could choose the leaders and the police that are right for them, not people imposed by decision-makers in Tripoli.
Protesters waving the flag of Cyrenaica, the eastern region in which Benghazi is located, and for which proponents of federalism want more autonomy.