TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Around 200 mostly armed protesters and militiamen occupied an area near Libya's parliament building on Thursday, blocking nearby roads and beating up journalists in protest of the country's new Cabinet.
For the third day in a row, the disgruntled protesters and armed men held a sit-in against the new government formed by Prime Minister Ali Zidan and endorsed by Libya's Congress on Wednesday.
Some from the crowd kicked and punched journalists who managed to pass the gates of the convention center that hosts parliamentary sessions. An AP reporter was among those beaten.
The protesters say the 30-member Cabinet includes former members of Moammar Gadhafi's deposed regime, and should undergo screening by a state body tasked with barring such people from government jobs.
Among them are Foreign Minister Ali al-Alouji and the Minister of Religious Endowment who both served under Gadhafi.
It is not clear who is organizing the protests. The demonstrators identify themselves as "revolutionaries" from eastern and western cities who have no political demands except to purge the new Cabinet of former regime members.
"We will continue our sit-in until Sunday and until our demands are met," said Abdel-Moneim al-Hour, a former security spokesman and one of the unarmed protesters.
The new Cabinet faces the daunting task of imposing control over armed groups, mostly former rebel fighters who defeated Gadhafi's forces during last year's eight-month civil war. The government must also build state institutions such as the judiciary, police and military from scratch, and rebuild cities and towns destroyed during the conflict.
Zidan, who tried to strike a balance that would represent Libya's regions fairly in the Cabinet, held meetings with representatives of protesters and promised to look into their demands. The sit-in continued, however.
Zidan gave Libya's biggest blocs in parliament nearly an equal share in the new Cabinet — both the Alliance of National Forces of the western-minded, wartime Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, and the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Justice and Construction Party.
The crisis over Cabinet picks is not the first. Zidan, a former human rights lawyer, is the second prime minister to be named by the 200-member parliament. Legislators dismissed his predecessor, Mustafa Abushaqur, after they said he had put forward unknown people for key Cabinet posts and proposed a government lacking diversity.