Dozens of Libyans protested Saturday against Defence Minister Osama Juili’s visit to an ex-bastion of Moamer Kadhafi, saying it showed support from the nation’s new rulers to the slain dictator’s diehards.
“Don’t trade with the blood of martyrs for the sake of elections!” shouted angry protesters demonstrating in Tripoli against Juili’s visit on Wednesday to Bani Walid after deadly clashes there killed seven people.
Juili toured the town 170 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of Tripoli, and declared it was under the control of the new government after initial conflicting reports over who was in charge of the former Kadhafi stronghold.
Deadly clashes erupted on Monday in Bani Walid which local officials said were between a brigade of fighters who helped topple Kadhafi and supporters of the dictator.
Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali initially did not know who was fighting in Bani Walid before saying it was an “internal” conflict.”
But on Sunday, dozens of protesters, most of them from Bani Walid and who called themselves as anti-Kadhafi groups, insisted that the fighting was between former rebels and loyalists of the dead dictator.
They said Juili’s visit to Bani Walid and his meeting the town’s tribal chiefs was a signal that Libya’s new rulers were in fact siding with the dictator’s loyalists.
“We know all those whom he met in Bani Walid. They all are Kadhafi supporters. He was shaking hands with them,” said protester Abdelhakim, a doctor from Bani Walid who gave only his first name.
“Juili’s visit there is a signal that the new government supports Kadhafi’s men.”
Abdelhakim said Bani Walid had “extreme groups” of those who supported Kadhafi and also those who have been against him for decades.
“We are from those groups who have always opposed Kadhafi. We did not like Juili visiting Bani Walid and meeting pro-Kadhafi people,” he said as crowds behind him chanted slogans against Juili as they demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib.
Bani Walid was the penultimate town to fall to Libya’s new government during last year’s uprising, and local officials had said that Kadhafi loyalists among its residents were behind the recent unrest.
Juili denied that during Wednesday’s visit.
“The fighting was not between thwar (anti-Kadhafi revolutionaries) and Kadhafi diehards,” he said.
“It was an internal problem… It was between two groups of young men. One of them was the May 28 Brigade,” he said referring to an ex-rebel formation in the town.
Bani Walid was a recruiting ground for elite troops of Kadhafi’s armed forces and was captured in October last year, just days before the ousted dictator was killed in the fall of his hometown Sirte.