Wages of war: Ex-rebels storm Libyan premier's office

Libyan government spokesperson Nasser al-Manaa speaks as Salem Ahbaj, a spokesperson for the Libyan Interior (L), and Hashim Basher, chairperson of the Supreme Security Committee (R), listen on during a press conference in Tripoli on May 8 2012 after former Libyan rebels angry over unpaid stipends opened fire on the headquarters of the interim government. (AFP)

Libyan government spokesperson Nasser al-Manaa speaks as Salem Ahbaj, a spokesperson for the Libyan Interior (L), and Hashim Basher, chairperson of the Supreme Security Committee (R), listen on during a press conference in Tripoli on May 8 2012 after former Libyan rebels angry over unpaid stipends opened fire on the headquarters of the interim government. (AFP)

At least one man was reported killed, paramedics said. Several dozen pickup trucks with heavy machine guns surrounded the building as government negotiators met the former rebels, who are demanding back pay they say they are owed.

The attack caused pandemonium when the militia, from Kikla, a town in the Nafusa mountains, attacked in the morning.

Gunfire echoed as the militia stormed the front gates and main entrance as staff fled the building. Keib was reportedly not in the building.
His whereabouts were unknown.

Streets around the office, near the headquarters of Libya’s National Oil Corporation, were closed by local militias in the absence of an effective government police force.

“The guys from Kikla are inside,” said Tripoli militiaman Abdul Zeli, sitting in a Jeep outside the building. “I was woken in the morning and told to come here by my brigade commander. We have a small problem.”

Periodic bursts of machine gun fire echoed from the building compound, which has been home to the prime minister since the interim government was sworn in last November.

The protest follows week of rising tension, with militias across the country demanding to be paid as Libya’s oil revenues balloon. The ruling National Transitional Council made a one-off payment of £250 earlier this year but it was halted amid allegations of fraud.

Deadlock on back pay saw another militia from the Nafusa mountains delay handing the capital’s airport back to government forces until last month.

In the streets surrounding the office, there was sympathy from ordinary Libyans for the militia demands. “These militias made the revolution but they don’t get paid,” said Moatasem Sotni, a Tripoli hotel worker standing under the flyover leading to the roadblocks.

As gunfire echoed through the streets he added: “There is nothing to fear from these guys [the Kikla militia]. They want to be paid. There is plenty of money now in Libya, you can believe it, they should pay them.”

The attack will cause huge embarrassment for a government which has failed to exert control over the militias that fought in the revolution last year to oust Muammar Gaddafi.

Elections are due next month but some diplomats question whether the chaos and sporadic inter-tribal warfare will make them impossible. — © Guardian News and Media 2012

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