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Gunmen surround Libyan foreign ministry to push demands

Published: Updated:

Gunmen surrounded Libya’s foreign ministry on Sunday calling for a law banning officials who had worked for deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi from senior positions in the new administration.

At least 20 pick-up trucks loaded with anti-aircraft guns blocked the roads while men armed with AK-47 and sniper rifles directed the traffic away from the building, witnesses said.

Tension between the government and armed militias has been rising in recent weeks since a campaign was launched to dislodge the groups from their strongholds in the capital.

Since Qaddafi was toppled by Western-backed rebels in 2011, Libya has been awash with weapons and roving armed bands that are increasingly targeting state institutions.

Sunday’s protest was to demand a law - which has already been proposed - be passed, banning Qaddafi-era officials from senior government positions. The law could force out several ministers as well as the congress leader, depending on the wording adopted.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will remain closed until the political isolation law is implemented,” the commander of the militia told Reuters.

The foreign ministry had been targeted because some officials employed there had worked for Qaddafi, he said.

The prime minister was expected to brief the media on the ministry blockade later on Sunday.

Libya’s legislature, the General National Congress has previously been prevented from voting on the bill, when protesters barricaded assembly members inside a building for several hours in March demanding they adopt the law.

“The country will remain in crisis so long as these people are present,” assembly member Tawfiq Al-Shehabi told Reuters.

On Tuesday, the French embassy in Tripoli was bombed, the first major attack on a foreign target since September’s deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. The attack showed the government’s grip on the capital may be slipping.