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Four dead as military base stormed

Soldiers and government-affiliated militias stormed a military base occupied by gunmen in Libya's capital today, sparking fresh fighting that left four dead a day after a deadly militia attack on protesters.

Armed residents and pro-government militiamen set up checkpoints across Tripoli, as thousands of protesters gathered in the city centre to mourn the 43 killed in yesterday's attack when militias fired on a crowd urging the dissolution of unlawful armed groups.

Yesterday's demonstrations had been the biggest show of public anger over militias in months. Some 500 people were also wounded there, health officials said. Some residents have said they will go on strike until unlawful militias are disbanded.

Since the fall of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, hundreds of militias - many on the government payroll - have sprung up across Libya, carving out zones of power, defying state authority and launching violent attacks. The government has tried to incorporate them into the fledgling police force and army but failed.

Today's violence started at dawn when militiamen from Misrata raided the base in the Tajoura neighborhood, taking arms and ammunition before escaping to the outskirts of the city, Col Musbah al-Harna told state news agency LANA from inside the base.

A fighter on the government side said one of his comrades was shot dead in the fighting. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists. A hospital official later said that three others were killed and 13 people were wounded. He too spoke anonymously for the same reasons.

Later in the day, government-affiliated militias and residents erected checkpoints along the road from Tajoura to the city centre, checking IDs and searching cars in hopes of preventing outside militiamen from entering.

Prime Minister Ali Zidan told militias from outside the capital not to enter, saying that could lead to a "bloodbath," LANA also reported.

Zidan, who was briefly kidnapped by militiamen himself last month, said yesterday that his embattled government was working on a plan to drive all militias out of Tripoli.

Meanwhile, mourners gathered in Martyrs' Square, a focal point of the country's uprising against Gaddafi, to pray for the dead. They raised Libyan flags and portraits of the slain protesters, chanting "Martyrs for you Libya" and calling for civil disobedience.

A statement drafted by Tripoli officials in the name of the city's inhabitants was read out to the crowd. It vowed to keep protests going until militias leave the capital.

The statement also stressed that yesterday's protests were peaceful. It said that demonstrators were not armed but carried only "olive branches and white flags." It also held the government responsible for the killings.

Tripoli officials have declared a three-day mourning period. Many stores in the city were closed today.

The government has given militias a December deadline to join state security forces or lose their government pay checks - though it is not clear if the government will cut them off, as similar threats were made in the past.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya condemned the violence, urging Libyans to exercise "maximum restraint" and resolve their differences peacefully.

AP

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