By Maryline Dumas and Mathieu Galtier.
Tripoli, 21 October:
Guards used automatic weapons to break-up a demonstration at the National Congress today, after some 500 people stormed the grounds of the legislative assembly in protest at the ongoing assault on Bani Walid.
Anti-aircraft guns and Kalashnikovs were fired in the air in warning; the first time security forces have deployed such measures outside the Congress to disperse a protest.
“Look, they are shooting at us! We have no weapon’s, we are civilians!” shouted a group of five women this afternoon. One man took a blow to the forehead after attempting to enter the Congress and was subsequently transferred to Tripoli’s Central Hospital for treatment.
“I passed through the first gate. I was in front of the entrance when there was heavy shot in the air” Taha Ekniweer told the Libya Herald. “I’m not feeling too bad but my right arm is painful as well”.
Waiting for a head scan, Ekniweer was unable to explain exactly what happened to him, but his sister Salaadine offered further details.
“He was attacked by the bayonet of one of the guards who was in charge of the protection of the building” she said. “But maybe also he was inuried by a bullet which was falling down from the sky. We don’t know exactly. But I heard the sound of a cracked bone.” The Libya Herald was not able to speak directly to the doctors at the hospital.
Although not the first time that protesters, predominantly members of the Warfallah tribe, have held a rally outside the Congress over the Bani Walid crisis, today’s demonstration was certainly the biggest. Between 700-1,000 people, including hundreds of women and tens of children, had turned out for the occasion.
As far as the Libya Herald could surmise, the demonstrators had no weapons, but carried revolutionary flags, streamers and placards calling for an end to the fighting.
Another woman, with a scratched face, complained of being injured by the same official forces. One guard wearing civilian clothes was seen firing a non-lethal anti-riot gun at one of the demonstrators, narrowly missing him.
Some of the demonstrators began to throw stones at the guards, before being pushed away from the Congress down the road.
“The problem is we don’t have the proper equipment to deal with demonstrations such as this”, said Othman Benassi, a former NTC member now working with the National Congress. “We need water cannons, but we only have machine guns which are not appropriate for this kind of event.”
Journalists present at the protest also complained of harassment by the guards, with several attempts being made to seize their cameras.
As ever, those present were demanding an audience with National Congress President Mohamed Magarief. “It is the Misrati army which is attacking Bani Walid, not the Libyan army”, said Abubakar Ali, one of the demonstrators. “There is no government in Libya. There is a war between Misrata and Bani Walid and I am ready to go to that war”, he added.
Bani Walid has been encircled by numerous brigades since the end of September, following a resolution by the National Congress demanding the town surrender numerous wanted Qaddafi associates along with those accused of involvement in the alleged torture and death of Omran Shaban.
Some 2,000 forces, predominantly from Misrata, are currently engaged in a major assault on the town, which has left dozens dead and hundreds injured to date. Those involved in the siege, along with many in Libya, believe that Bani Walid cannot be left to operate as a state within a state and must be brought to heel, by force if necessary.