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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Protest in Derna as the Revolution continues in Libya

Derna is a port city in eastern Libya with a long history. It was established in the Hellenistic period and became a metropolitan in the Roman province of Libya. It was captured in 1805 by US Troops in the "Battle of Derne" as part of the First Barbary War and it was one of the first cities won by the revolution after mass protests broke out in February 2011. It now has a population of about 80,000.

It has also been a center of Islamists militancy in Libya. For example Wikipedia reminds us that:
In 2007, American troops in Iraq uncovered a list of foreign fighters for the Iraqi insurgency. Of the 112 Libyans on the list, 52 had come from Derna. Derna has the reputation of being the most pious Muslim city in Libya.
Consequently, Derna has also been an important center for the Islamist militias that have so bedevilled Libya since Mummar Qaddafi was overthrown. But in since the beginning of this month there has been a lot of mass activity aimed at abolishing these militias.

This latest wave of protest have been building for some time. Here is a tweet about an earlier wave:
I take this as a sign that, in spite of disruption and temporary vacuum re: state power that must attend any revolution, the Libyan Revolution remains in the hands of the people and there is every reason to have much hope for the future.

This news is breaking fast so what I am presenting here is a collection of material I have found on the Internet.
UPI is on the job and gives us this quick summary of were things stood as of this morning:
Derna Council condemns attack on protesters, supports security demands

Dec. 3, 2013 at 9:57 AM
DERNA, Libya, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The Derna Council in Libya issued a statement Tuesday condemning the attack on peaceful demonstrators protesting the presence of armed militias.

"We support their demands for the provision of security in the city. We are very sorry for the casualties among the protesters," the statement read.

The council encouraged demonstrators to remain peaceful and not use violent tactics, the Libya Herald said.

Gunmen shot at the protesters Monday, the second day of the demonstrations against the lack of proper security in the city.

One man was shot in the stomach, and three others received leg wounds, the Herald reported.

The attackers ran back to their vehicles and fled from the scene.

From Magharebia we have this more extensive report:
Derna breaks its silence

By Ali Gattani in Derna and Essam Mohamed in Tripoli for Magharebia

Four protestors were shot in Derna on Monday (December 2nd) at a rally against the on-going rash of violence in Libya, AFP reported.

The shootings came as citizens demonstrated for a second consecutive day against insecurity and Islamists militias who rule the eastern Libyan town.

Roughly 3,000 people rallied to demand the presence of a legitimate army and the ouster of what they called "the supporters of evil".

According to the spokesperson of a network of civil society organisations in Derna, Baset Abu Dhahab, the protest was in response to calls made by city youths on Facebook "to renounce violence and bombings".

Abu Dhahab said a group calling itself the Abu Bakr as-Sediq Brigade posted warnings threatening anyone who took part in the demonstration or shops that closed down as part of civil disobedience.

"However, young people took to streets to demand the reinstatement of police and army and to demand the government and General National Congress (GNC) activate their role, as there are no signs of the state in town," he noted.

As to a previous announcement by Derna Islamic Army, he said, "In the absence of the state, everyone has their own vision. A small group of outlaws who don't represent our town and who were supplied with vehicles by an unknown entity control the streets."

"When we took to the streets yesterday, it was because we gave the chance to outlaws, former prisoners, extremists and illegal immigrants and everyone else who wanted to do whatever they wanted in town; they have room in the absence of the state," Abu Dhahab continued.

He blamed the appearance of these groups, including Derna Islamic Army and Ansar al-Sharia, on the absence of the state.

"Derna will come back to be a city of culture and civilisation as it was in the past," he said.

In his turn, Mohamed Mesmari, a member of Derna Youth Movement, said citizens' passive attitudes delayed their participation in demonstrations against assassinations, bombings and lack of security.

"The volcano has erupted, and therefore, we marched against Ansar al-Sharia and the former regime's loyalists," he noted.

The latest violence came as Libyan authorities boosted regional co-operation as part of efforts to clamp down on the insecurity.

Last Thursday (November 28th), Libyan defence ministry spokesman Abdul-Razak Chabahi announced an agreement with Sudan to form a force to protect the countries' mutual border, in addition to joint border forces with Egypt and Chad.

He explained that Libyan Defence Minister Abdullah al-Thani also met with the Niger defence minister and discussed border problems.

As for co-operation between Libya and Italy, al-Thani also visited Italy to discuss co-operation for border control via satellite, with the proposed station slated for Tripoli under the command of the defence minister or chief of general staff of the Libyan army.

"Within a short period of time, Libyan borders will be monitored and under full control," al-Thani said.

With regard to the construction of the Libyan army, Chabahi noted, "We are serious and trying hard but we need support and a morale boost."

"The street and people are the ones who asked for the army, the police and that weapons be under the control of the army, because otherwise there will be no achievements, construction or co-operation with the rest of the world," he added.

For her part, Tripoli high school teacher Amal Alsoiei said that the military could "hardly fill the gaps and the police have begun to get out into the streets"

The Libyan Herald was able to interview one of the leaders of Ansar Al-Sharia:
Four protestors shot in Derna demonstration
By Seraj Essul.
Tripoli, 2 December 2013
Four protestors were injured, one of them seriously, when gunmen opened up on the head of a procession in Derna early this evening.

The large demonstration, ran into several hundreds but according to one participant, numbered over a thousand. It was reportedly heading along Al-Jaish street toward the Al-Khuds school, also known Azouz School, when a Toyota car blocked the road ahead of it. Three gunmen were said to have got out an opened up with Kalashnikovs on the front of the crowd.

One man was shot in the stomach and three other people received leg wounds. The seriously-wounded man, named locally as Salah Nweassri, was rushed to Hareesh Hospital where after an operation, he was said to be in a stable condition.

This was the second consecutive day of demonstrations in Derna, which has also seen the Omar Mukhtar University closed by a student strike. The protestors are demanding an end to the presence of armed militias in the city and the proper enforcement of security by the police and army.

Today’s march had begun at the Sahaba mosque where demonstrators had gathered before Asr (afternoon) prayers. The gunmen are said to have attacked the vanguard of the procession at around 6.30 pm. After firing several burst, they returned to their vehicle and fled. There are unconfirmed reports that earlier today some people had blocked roads with burning tyres. It is understood that a further protest is planned for this evening.

In an interview on Libya Ahrar TV tonight Mahoud Al-Barasi, the Ansar Al-Sharia commander in Derna said that the people who had gone out on the demonstration today were Aslam (members of the old regime), liberals, secularists, Muslim Brotherhood and people who believe in democracy.

Barasi said that the general public were with Ansar Al-Sharia and Ansar Al-Sharia was not against the general public.

Explaining the shooting, he said that there had been a problem with one of the shops on the route. He said a group of protestors did not want someone to open their shop. Barasi did not explain how this led to the shooting. He said that five people had been hit and one was seriously injured. However, he maintained that they had all be shot with “Turkish bullets” believed to be a reference to 9mm pistols. He denied that Ansar Al-Sharia had used Kalashnikovs.

“The general public are Muslim people, so we don’t confront them” said Barasi, “We do not consider them unbelievers. We are not against the army and police. We just want them to follow the Quran”.

He added that “If the people want us to leave, we will leave, as we did in Benghazi”.

When the TV interviewer asked Barasi why people were demonstrating against Ansar Al-Sharia, the militia leader repeated his accusation that they were not the general public.

When pressed Barasi to explain the assassinations and bombings in the town, the line went dead.

A statement was posted this evening on Derna Council’s Facebook page, strongly condemning the firing “ on the protestors, who are our brothers and sons, who went out on a peaceful protest to denounce the murders and bombings in Derna. So we support their demands for the provision of security in the city. We are very sorry for the casualties among the protestors”.

The council urged demonstrators to remain peaceful and not to resort to violence. It also warned against the spreading of rumours but asked people to check out everything they heard before passing on wrong information.

From Libya TV we have this report:
Derna calls for ousting of militias, five left injured

Sherif Dhaimish
December 3, 2013
Fiver people were injured during a protest in the eastern city of Derna on Monday evening after armed groups opened fire.

Three of those left wounded are reported to be in a critical condition after being shot in the legs when hundreds of Derna residents were out to express solidarity against Ansar al-Sharia’s presence.

People were demanding the removal of “extremism and insecurity”, one medical source told AFP.

Similar protests around the country are placing the Libyan government under more pressure to expedite an active police force in the city to spread security and stability.

Benghazi expressed their solidarity with neighbouring city Derna on Monday night, also calling for the ousting of Ansar al-Sharia due to their extremist enforcement on Libyan citizens and lacking ability to bring stability, something the country has longed for since the revolution of 2011.

Outside of Libya, Ansar al-Sharia have been closely linked to the Benghazi 9/11 attack, which left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead after the US Consulate was attacked. However, the extremist group have denied any involvement and have also denounced any links to al-Qaeda.
From first reports it looks like the people are winning some victories.

But this report of a terrorist attack that came in as I was preparing this, shows that the struggle is far from over.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Libya

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