Magharebia (Washington DC)

Libya: Nation to Strengthen Benghazi Security

Tripoli — Setting a curfew in Benghazi and beyond could be one of the several security measures the interim Libyan government is considering to restore order.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan held a press conference in Tripoli on Wednesday evening (January 16th) upon his return from a visit to Qatar. He expressed his sadness for the recent events in Benghazi and elsewhere.

"We're taking steady steps to restore the prestige of the State by strengthening the national army and interior ministry," Zidan said. "These efforts are infuriating those who don't want to see security and safety established in Libya."

The premier noted that over 18,000 people joined the police force.

Following the assassination attempt on Italy's Consul Guido De Sanctis on Tuesday, the interim government is considering imposing a curfew in Libya once the General National Council (GNC) approves the measure. The Minister added that police officers would be deployed in greater numbers across Libya, but especially in Benghazi.

"We are discussing with the GNC about a curfew in Benghazi and maybe other cities, and no decision has been made on a partial curfew covering only certain areas, but it was very probable," Zidan told journalists, AFP reported.

"Benghazi won't be a military zone, and we don't have the intention to do that," he added. "No decision has been taken in this regard. Benghazi would stay with its wonderful civilian spirit, but security will be established soon there."

The Libyan government named Major Gen. Khalifa Haftar the new military ruler for Benghazi, Zidan noted.

De Sanctis left Benghazi and the Italian government temporarily closed its consulate in Benghazi and pulled its staff out of the country. The latest attack on De Sanctis is part of a series of attacks on foreign diplomats. US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US officials died in the September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Last June, a rocket-propelled grenade struck a convoy carrying the British Ambassador to Libya, wounding two bodyguards.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Awad Barasi met with Italy's Ambassador Giuseppe Buccino Grimaldi in Tripoli. The two sides discussed bilateral relations. Dr. Barasi apologised on behalf of the interim government for the Benghazi incident and promised to beef up security measures for the Italian consulate.

The Italian ambassador promised to re-open the Italian consulate soon. However, the security situation in Benghazi remains uncertain.

Unknown assailants attacked a patrolling police vehicle Monday at an intersection in al-Keish, opposite a clinic in Benghazi. Two patrol members were reportedly wounded by a hand grenade.

Meanwhile, Salah al-Wazri, the former head of a unit in oil facilities protection, was assassinated on Tuesday night in the al-Liti area of Benghazi. He appeared on TV to discuss the recent attack on the Benghazi police station. On the same day, an RPG was fired at a commando forces vehicle, killing the driver.

"There are some extremist groups that don't want to see law enforced in town," economics student Youssef Ali said. "Along religious radicals, there are also those engaged in smuggling arms and drugs, theft, human trafficking, and smuggling cars for personal profit."

Journalist Miftah Belaid declared, "The state must impose its prestige, and the interior minister and chief of staffs must deal with the situation in Benghazi. They have to stay there and form security teams to deal with the security situation. They should act firmly in this regard to realise people's desire to live in peace."

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