Heavily-armed men in pick-up trucks have surrounded Libya’s Justice Ministry, demanding the resignation of any officials who served in the regime of deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Upwards of 20 pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, grad
missiles and anti-aircraft guns have positioned themselves at the
ministry’s gates, blocking access to the building, AFP reports.
Despite the heavy artillery, the men were not overtly hostile and
no shots have reportedly been fired.
"Several armed men in vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft guns surrounded the Ministry of Justice," Walid Ben Rabha, head of the ministry's information department, said on Tuesday.
"They asked the minister and staff present to leave their offices and close the ministry."
Armed protests have gripped several government offices
throughout Libya in recent days.
Dozens of gunmen in Tripoli besieged the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, calling on authorities to enact a law which will ban former aides to Gaddafi from serving in the government.
On Monday, disgruntled police officers firing their guns into the air stormed the Interior Ministry demanding higher wages. The country’s national television station was also targeted in a separate attack.
The growing unrest prompted the General National Congress (GNC) – the legislative authority of Libya – to push up its next scheduled sitting from Tuesday to Sunday.
A spokesman said the postponement would give deputies time to study the legislation the protesters are demanding. If passed, the law would result in the ouster of several long-serving ministers, including the Congress’s leader itself; depending on the final draft.
Perceived legislative foot-dragging has incensed many Libyans eager to see the so-called Political Isolation Law come into effect.
"If they don't pass the political isolation law, we will protest here and topple the government," a demonstrator who identified himself as Faisal Alaqsa told Reuters.
However, Deputy Head of the GNC Salah Makhzoum countered claims the bill wouldn’t go through, saying delays in the laws implementation were part of the normal political process. He further said the law had already been passed in principle, but that political factions within the GNC had been given 13 days to hammer out the details.
In March, protesters barricaded members of the GNC inside parliament for hours, urging lawmakers to adopt measures barring Gaddafi-era officials from political life. Once the siege was lifted, gunmen targeted GNC chief Mohammed Megaryef's motorcade, although no one was injured in the assault.
Tension between authorities and armed militias have
intensified following a government campaign to rid Tripoli of armed
militias entrenched throughout the capital. Since Gaddafi's death,
Tripoli and other Libyan cities have been plagued by violence,
lawlessness and factional infighting.
The government has been fighting an uphill battle to assert its authority throughout the country, much of which is still controlled by rebel groups who failed to disband following the 2011 uprising.
Fears of a security breakdown in the capital were heightened following a car bomb which targeted the French embassy in Tripoli last week, injuring two French guards and a girl living nearby.
The intensification of armed protests over the last several days has further highlighted security concerns, prompting the German embassy to halt some activities.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denounced the rash of paramilitary actions targeting government offices, calling on Libyans to throw their support behind the government in resisting armed groups “who want to destabilize the country and terrorize foreigners and embassies."
However, he ruled out the possibility that authorities would meet the armed protest with force.