Massive protests spilled onto the streets of Benghazi on Friday after Islamist militants overran an important Libyan military base in the city. Some 2,000 people took the streets of the city protesting against the Islamist militants and former rebel militias who are fighting against Libya’s armed forces, Reuters reported.
The last two weeks of heavy fighting in Benghazi and the capital Tripoli have been the worst in the country since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Over 2,000 people have been killed and most Western governments have pulled out their diplomatic missions in the North African state.
The fierce fighting between rival factions of Libya's two largest cities exposes the Libyan government’s inability to control the heavily armed brigades of former anti-Gaddafi fighters who refuse to disband.
The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an alliance consisting of former rebels and Islamist militants, have forced the Libyan army out of Benghazi.
The protestors marched and shouted slogans praising Libya’s army and condemning extremism. In 2012, the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi after an attack on the U.S. embassy reportedly carried out by Islamist militants.
"We are here to say Benghazi will not become another Mosul,” said Seraj Byouk, a doctor, in reference to the Iraqi city that has fallen under the control of ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway faction.
In Benghazi, Islamist and rebel militia now fight against special forces along with a renegade former army officer, Khalifa Haftar, who vowed to throw the militants out of the city.
Haftar initially gained the support of Libyans who were fed up with the instability wrought by the militants, but he has failed to make significant gains. His critics say he is power-hungry and a former ally of Gaddafi.
On Friday, there was no sign of the Libyan army, Haftar’s fights or Shura Council militia in Benghazi, leaving civilians to control checkpoints and organize traffic.
Benghazi’s main police station was demolished with explosives on Friday morning and the main army base in the city was empty, three days after it have been overrun by militants, with other parts of the city remaining peaceful.
Tribal leaders and community elders have be trying to negotiate a cease-fire to stop the fighting that has turned the two largest Libyan cities into war zones.
Greece on Friday became the latest European country to pull its diplomats out of Libya. Greece evacuated its diplomatic staff and more than 100 other European and Chinese nationals from Libya on a navy frigate that sailed to the Greek port of Piraeus, the Greek Defense Ministry said.