Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Forces loyal to Libya’s transitional government are positioning themselves near the town of Bani Walid following clashes between militias that deepened the country’s worst political crisis since the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi was declared over in October.
Several hundred militiamen with pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns are deployed on a main road at El Estada, a settlement of sand-colored huts 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Bani Walid.
In El Estada, a group of fighters from Tripoli, Benghazi, Torbruk and Bani Walid said in an interview that war-crimes suspects from the former regime are hiding in Bani Walid and threatened to attack the desert town 110 miles south of Tripoli unless the suspects are handed over.
“There are maybe 300 of them inside the town,” said militia fighter Abdul Wahab Gaidi, from the capital. “They must be captured.”
The standoff comes as rallies demanding more accountability from the National Transitional Council gain momentum as it tries to consolidate its authority and unite militias while preparing for elections set for June. Protesters stormed the NTC offices in the eastern town of Benghazi on Jan. 22, leading to the resignation of Vice President Abdel Hafiz Ghoga.
The events of this week have caused the publication of election law to be delayed. A leaked document has already drawn criticism from Libyans, who say they object to clauses denying dual citizens the right to stand for office unless they renounce non-Libyan nationality.
“Libyans through and through whose families go back centuries and who have contributed so much to Libya, are denied the privilege of serving their country,” Guma El Gumaty, a long-term Libyan exile in the U.K. and a popular political figure in Tripoli, wrote in the English Language Tripoli Post.
On the road to Bani Walid, fighters in an assortment of combat uniforms, some wearing overcoats against the cold, milled about. They searched the vehicles passing occasionally in both directions.
At least five people were killed in the fighting on Jan. 23 in Bani Walid, where Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, found shelter after the family fled from Tripoli in late August. It was among the last towns to fall to rebel forces.
Senior officials in the NTC, local leaders and militia chiefs say the clashes were triggered by local disputes and not linked to insurgency led by supporters of the old regime.
As the checkpoint commander, Colonel Abdula Mehdi, warmed himself in a Landcruiser, he said his men want to capture war- crimes suspects. The town’s garrison had been in the process of arresting them when they were attacked, he said.
“We do not want to make war on the inhabitants,” said fighter Mustafa Ben Hadia, clad in a bulky green combat jacket.
--With assistance from Caroline Alexander in London. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Karl Maier
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