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More than 1,000 inmates escape Libyan prison

More than 1,000 detainees escaped from a prison near the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi in a massive jailbreak yesterday, officials said, as protesters stormed political party offices in Libya’s main cities.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the jailbreak at the al-Kweifiya prison came as part of the demonstrations. Protesters had massed across the country angry over the killing of an activist critical of the country’s Muslim Brotherhood group.

Gunmen outside of the prison fired into the air as inmates inside began setting fires, suggesting the jailbreak was preplanned, a Benghazi-based security official said. Those who escaped either face or were convicted of serious charges, a security official at al-Kweifiya prison said.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.

Special forces later arrested 18 of the escapees, while some returned on their own, said Mohammed Hejazi, a government security official in Benghazi. Three inmates were wounded in the jailbreak and were taken to a local hospital, he said.

There also was confusion initially about how many prisoners broke out, with numbers of escapees ranging as high as 1,200.

Benghazi’s security situation is among the most precarious in post-revolution Libya. Last year, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in the city.

Meanwhile, hundreds gathered yesterday in the capital Tripoli after dawn prayers, denouncing the Friday shooting death of Abdul-Salam Al-Musmari. They set fire to tires in the street and demanded the dissolution of Islamist parties.

The two incidents highlighted Libya’s precarious security situation and the challenges the North African country faces as it tries to restore security nearly two years after the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

In Tripoli, protesters appeared to be inspired by events in neighboring Egypt, where millions took to the streets Friday to answer a call from the army chief, who said he wanted a mandate to stop “potential terrorism” by supporters of the country’s ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.

“We don’t want the Brotherhood, we want the army and the police,” Libyan protesters chanted, repeating a slogan also used in Egypt. Libya’s nascent security forces are struggling to control the country’s militias, most of whom have roots in the rebel groups that overthrew Gadhafi in 2011.

Al-Musmari, who used to publicly criticize the Brotherhood, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Benghazi.

Some protesters stormed the headquarters of a Brotherhood-affiliated political party and another Islamist-allied party in the capital, destroying furniture. Witnesses say a Brotherhood party office was also stormed in Benghazi.

Protesters angry with the Libya’s weak central government also targeted the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA), ransacking its headquarters. The party came on top in Libya’s first free parliamentary elections last year.

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