TRIPOLI, Libya – Three Libyan demonstrators died in clashes with a pro-military militia after protesters tried to break into their base in the eastern city of Benghazi, health officials and the minister of interior said Saturday.
The incident prompted Libya's justice minister to announce an ultimatum for the militia to evacuate its headquarters and put it under direct police control in an attempt to prevent further violence.
Security has deteriorated in Libya since the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Authorities have depended on unruly militias to bring order, but in the absence of a strong police force or unified military, they often challenge the weak central government.
The government has repeatedly tried to rein in the various militias but failed.
Late Friday, dozens of protesters rallied to denounce the ongoing state of insecurity in Benghazi and call for disbanding the armed groups. Gunmen drove past their gathering, firing in the air before fleeing. Protesters then moved to the base of one of the few remaining pro-government militias in the city, known as "February 17," sparking a gunfight that left three protesters dead and 20 wounded, according to health officials at two local hospitals.
Minister of Interior Saleh Mazeq said Saturday the three were killed in "random shooting," without elaborating. He said the situation in the city is still critical.
Other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
In a press conference commenting on the incident, Salah al-Marghani, the justice minister, said military command has ordered the militia to evacuate the base within 72 hours and hand it over to the joint security committee to prevent more bloodshed.
Al-Marghani said the base would later be handed over to the health ministry.