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Protesters, militiamen end siege of Libyan prime minister's office

About 200 militiamen and protesters demanding the resignation of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan have ended their day-long siege of his office, a group leader said Monday, easing fears of renewed unrest and challenges to the country's parliament and government.

The protest in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, ended after the prime minister sneaked out of the building through a back door late Sunday, said Osama Kabar, deputy leader of the previously little-known group called the Supreme Council of Libya Revolutionaries.

Zidan's office said the prime minister left Monday for Qatar to attend an Arab League summit.

Kabar, whose group is packed with Islamists and militiamen from the city of Misrata, said the move against Zidan was in response to controversial remarks the prime minister made last week, threatening to summon outside help to confront militias.

Less than two years after the country's uprising-turned-civil war, Libya is struggling to build a unified army and police force amid increasingly powerful militias. The government depends on some of the militias to fill the security vacuum, but has no control over their actions.

"These remarks were very dangerous," Kabar said.

"There is no security problem in Libya," he said. "The real revolutionaries are protecting the country."

Kabar's group also is against appointing members of the former Moammar Gadhafi regime to the Libyan Cabinet.

Zidan, who served as an ambassador under Gadhafi before joining opposition decades ago, retracted his remarks. He made them at a new conference on Tuesday after a short trip to Benghazi where he escaped an assault at the airport. The assault was carried out by disgruntled militiamen demanding salaries.

Many fear the siege on Zidan's office, the assault at the airport and other attacks targeting parliament are all part of a coup.

"Forcing change by weapon is a coup and Libyans have chosen their way through democracy, not through coups," said Fathi Baja, an analyst and member of the former opposition group, the National Transitional Council.

While meeting with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week, Zidan challenged militias, saying: "The government will not break and will not submit to anyone but to Libyans' will through the ballot boxes."

Adding to security woes, the country's parliament and political scene is split into two main factions.

One is an Islamist faction led by the Muslim Brotherhood along with independents. The other is headed by Mahmoud Jibril, a former war-time prime minister whose coalition won the largest number of seats during the country's first free elections in July.

The parliament, which has been criticized for incompetence and its inability to meet its obligations, such as making preparations to draft the country's constitution, has been further weakened by successive attacks by militiamen.

One of the worst attacks occurred in mid-March when the parliament met to discuss a controversial law away from its usual venue. In its current draft form, the law would deprive anyone who served under Gadhafi from 1969 to 2011 from playing any political role. If passed, a whole ruling class would be banned from politics.

While parliamentarians were discussing the law, militiamen stormed the building and fired gunshots in the air. Members of parliament were trapped in the building for several hours before they were allowed to leave. On the way out, the convoy of Mohammed al-Megarif, the head of the parliament, came under fire.