Former rebel fighters attack Libyan interim government headquarters

At least two people are killed as ex-fighters use heavy gunfire on building in Tripoli over unpaid stipends for those who had fought against Muammar Qaddafi.

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TRIPOLI // Former Libyan rebels attacked the interim government's headquarters in Tripoli yesterday, killing at least two people and wounding several others, an interior ministry official said.

"Between two to four guards were killed and many others are wounded," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Former rebels angry over unpaid stipends opened fire on the headquarters of the interim government after surrounding the building, officials said.

"Many men encircled the building and opened fire against it with weapons including anti-aircraft cannons," a government employee said.

"Some men entered the premises and fired from inside," he said, adding that chaotic scenes unfolded as people scrambled for cover.

Several lorries mounted with anti-aircraft guns surrounded the building in central Tripoli, blocking traffic, witnesses said. Residents in the area reported hearing heavy exchanges of gunfire.

Others reported military vehicles travelling down the airport road towards the headquarters in the city centre.

Government spokesman Nasser Al Manaa said the defence minister, Osama Juili, was negotiating with the fighters, who "came in protest over (unpaid) stipends."

Last month, citing widespread fraud, Libyan authorities paused the payment of cash bonuses to rebels who had fought against Muammar Qaddafi's regime in 2011.

Ex-fighters reacted negatively to the decision.

On April 10, they opened fire against the government complex in a smaller attack that authorities brushed off as a "scare tactic."

Security in the building has since then been beefed up with armed guards stationed all around the complex which holds the offices of prime minister Abdel Rahim Al Kib.

Analysts and rights group have repeatedly warned that the interim government must disarm militias who pose one of the biggest challenges to the North African nation's transition to democracy.

Mr Al Kib's cabinet has come under attack in recent weeks over its failure to take tough decisions such as stripping former rebels from their prized weapons.

Libya's nascent armed forces and the interior ministry have sought to incorporate anti-Qaddafi fighters into their ranks but rogue elements continue to defy the new authorities.

Seventy thousand ex-fighters are now under interior ministry command, a Libyan official said on April 24.

They will "help the ministry fight against crime, protect strategic sites, embassies and diplomatic missions," said Omar Al Khadrawi, deputy interior minister.

Yesterday's violence came as Libyans across the country registered to vote in the first national poll in more than four decades. Libyans are expected to vote for a constituent assembly in June.