TRIPOLI (AFP) - At least 31 people were killed and 285 hurt in Tripoli, Libya, after a demonstration calling on unruly militias to leave the capital turned violent on Friday, the health minister said.
The militias are holdovers from the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi and are a powerful force in the increasingly lawless North African country.
The government, at a news conference, called for a ceasefire after the demonstration turned into a deadly confrontation between groups of gunmen. "We call on all armed factions to cease fire so the government can take the necessary measures to restore calm in the capital," it said in a statement read by Culture Minister Hassan al-Amin.
Health Minister Nureddin Doghman told reporters that the clashes had left 13 dead and 114 others wounded. But less than an hour later he told private channel Libya al-Ahrar that the toll had risen to 31 killed and 285 wounded and could still rise, with other officials saying the situation was chaotic.
Violence erupted when gunmen fired at hundreds of demonstrators carrying white flags from inside villas in the southern Tripoli district of Gharghour where the Misrata militia has its headquarters.
The shooting sparked a violent response in which armed men assaulted the villas and set them on fire. It was not clear how many died in the demonstration or how many were killed in the assault. "It's total confusion," a health ministry said.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said armed demonstrators were involved in the clashes and that the security forces had not intervened "so as not to complicate the situation."
Mr Zeidan, who was abducted briefly by armed men in October, had warned last week of the possibility of foreign powers intervening in Libya unless chaos ends, and called on Libyans to rebel against militias."The people must take to the streets ... and support the building up of the army and police," he said last Sunday, in an appeal at rallying his campaign against militias.
On Friday Mr Sadat al-Badri, president of Tripoli city council, insisted that the demonstrators were unarmed."It was a peaceful protest," he said, and declared three days of mourning in the capital.
Mr Badri, whose council had called for the protest, told AFP that shots fired at demonstrators came from inside the militia headquarters."We're going to announce a general strike and launch a civil disobedience campaign until these militias leave," he said.