By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 3 May 2013:
There were angry scenes this afternoon in Tripoli’s Martyr’s Square when rival groups almost came to . . .[restrict]blows over the actions of militiamen who have been besieging a number of government ministries since Sunday.
At around 5.45pm a procession of some 300 anti-militia demonstrators arrived in Martyrs’ Square from Algeria Square. With placards denouncing the sieges and calling for law and order, and waving the occasional olive branch, the men and women moved slowly around the Square shouting anti-militia slogans . However, they kept away from the tent in the north-east corner that for several weeks has been the focus of the campaign in favour of the Political Isolation Law. There, around 60 of its supporters were gathered.
At first it seemed that the two sides were determined not to clash, but matters threatened to turn ugly when the smaller group moved to confront the demonstrators. The small number of security officials in the Square and others quickly tried to form a human chain to keep the two sides apart.
Security had earlier been intense in Martyrs’ Square, as in other parts of the capital, with a show of army vehicles and soldiers in response to reports that there would be rival demonstrations . However, by the time the demonstrators arrived in the square, most of the security presence had vanished.
For a short while the efforts to keep the two sides physically apart succeeded and both groups battled it out with rival slogans. “Libya, Libya” chanted the anti-militia demonstrators. “Shuhada, Shuhada” (martyrs, martyrs), responded the Isolation Law supporters.
The anti-militia demonstrators then moved back towards the middle of the square but were pursued by the Isolation Law supporters some of whom grabbed and smashed placards. There were one or two instances of physical violence. The Libya Herald saw one young anti-militia demonstrator beaten by the other side and who had to be helped away by friends. In another incident, a demonstrator had his shirt ripped off.
It quickly became apparent that the Isolation Law supporters wanted to drive the demonstrators from the square and to a large extent succeeded despite their smaller numbers.
“They don’t tolerate anyone with different views” said one of the departing protestors. “It’s very sad.”
The demonstrators then headed back to Algeria Square where they were joined by others, swelling their numbers to 500 people in all. For about half an hour the demonstration continued peacefully. Banners read: “Don’t impose your views by force”; “No to occupiers. Yes to dialogue”; “The true revolutionaries are the ones who have surrendered their weapons and returned to work” and “Sabotaging the country’s future is an unforgivable crime”.
From Algeria Square, some headed up the top end of Istiqlal Street, planning to take their demonstration to the Prime Minister’s office.
In Martyrs’ Square, after most of the demonstrators had left, some of the Isolation Law supporters tried to make it up with the few remaining protestors, embracing them and asking for photos to be taken of them together.
One Isolation Law supporter from Sebha said that he had been campaigning for weeks but that nothing had happened. He said that he had been involved in the siege of the Foreign Ministry and that it was carried out by ordinary people like himself, not by militiamen. He insisted that his colleagues did not want to bring down the Zeidan government but said they did want Interior Minister Ashour Shuwail sacked.
Another supporter accused the demonstrators who were calling for law and order, of being no different from those who had backed Qaddafi. They too, he said, had wanted law and order.
The attempt by some supporters to embrace the demonstrators and show that they all were Libyans together was not wholly endorsed by everyone. Four or five who were seen to have led the charge to force the demonstrators out of Martyr’s Square later drove along upper Istiqlal Street while the demonstrators were heading to the Prime Minister’s office and tried to intimidate them. However, they were quickly overpowered by the larger number of demonstrators who were supported by local youths. The incident took place near a military police station in Shara Istiqlal and they were arrested.
There was then another ugly scene when numbers of their supporters arrived to rescue them. They were released almost immediately. However, it has since been reported that a military policeman was hit on the back of the head by one of the supporters and is now in Sharia Zawia hospital. His condition is unknown. [/restrict]