By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 20 September:
The Ansar Al-Sharia brigade has declared its intention to organise a mass protest in Benghazi’s Kish Square this Friday, putting it on a collision course with a previously announced march to commemorate the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens, which is to be held at the same location.
The Islamist militia, which has been accused of complicity in last week’s fatal assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi, appears to have chosen the location deliberately, with both marches set to be held around 5pm following Friday prayers.
Organisers of the “Save Benghazi” rally, one of several slated to be held around the country on Friday, say they fear that almost inevitable confrontations could turn violent and have condemned the move.
“Ansar Al-Sharia have done this deliberately”, said Bilal Bettamir, one of the organisers of the rally to commemorate the fallen ambassador.
“We have been planning our march for the past week, and they made their decision yesterday. They knew all about it”.
Bettamir says that in addition to highlighting their opposition to the consulate attacks, the “Save Benghazi” rally will be calling for the disbanding of militias, both in law and in practice, and the development of a regular army and police. They will also be demonstrating for freedom of expression, he says, and for religious moderation.
“Ansar Al-Sharia have said that their rally is to be in the name of the Prophet”, Bettamir said. “But we are all Muslims and they should not be trying to hijack the Prophet like this. It is a huge issue”.
It is understood that the Ansar Al-Sharia rally will remain in Shajara Square, whilst the second rally will begin outside the Tibesti hotel before proceeding on to that location.
Bettamir says that their rally is expected to draw several thousand people, far more than he expects will attend Ansar Al-Sharia’s.
“I believe we will have 20-50,000 people”, he said. “This really is going to be huge. I do not think the Ansar Al-Sharia rally will have more than a few hundred people”.
Organisers of the Ansar Al-Sharia rally have been handing out flyers in Benghazi, and insist they will not be there to celebrate Stevens’s death. The group has vehemently denied accusations that it was responsible for the attacks, which left a total of four Americans dead.
The group, which has been credited with maintaining security around hospitals and other pieces of critical infrastructure Benghazi, says that its primary objective is the implementation of Sharia law in Libya.
They are believed to be protesting to highlight their position and because they fear potential moves by the government to disband them.