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Libyans protest Islamists' destruction of shrines

AFP

August 27, 2012

Libyan activists and civil society groups on Monday urged the newly-elected parliament to intervene to protect the national heritage after Islamist hardliners destroyed shrines across the country.

In a letter addressed to the General National Congress and its speaker, Mohammed al-Megarief, 17 groups also called for the recent attacks to be investigated.

"Action must be taken before these criminals cause any further harm or damage to our heritage and our people," the statement, signed by 17 groups, including Lawyers for Justice in Libya and Women4Libya, said.

"We plead with you to act now to protect our heritage," they said.

Several Muslim shrines have been attacked in recent days, including those of the mystic Sufi strand of Islam.

Islamist hardliners on Saturday bulldozed part of the mausoleum of Al-Shaab Al-Dahman, close to the center of the Libyan capital.

The demolition came a day after hardliners blew up the mausoleum of Sheikh Abdessalem al-Asmar in Zliten, 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of the capital.

According to witnesses, another mausoleum -- that of Sheikh Ahmed al-Zarruq -- was destroyed in the port of Misrata, 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of Tripoli.

Hardline Sunni Islamists are implacably opposed to the veneration of tombs of revered Muslim figures, saying that such devotion should be reserved for God alone.

The Sufis, who have played a historical role in the affairs of Libya, have increasingly found themselves in conflict with Qatari- and Saudi-trained Salafist preachers who consider them heretical.

On Sunday, the national assembly accused the interior ministry's High Security Committee of being lax or even implicated in the destruction of shrines.

Protesters took to the streets of Tripoli on Monday for the second day to denounce the demolitions, with dozens of representatives of civil society groups demonstrating outside the national assembly building.

The protesters echoed the letter, calling for concrete action from parliament, an AFP photographer said.

On Sunday, dozens of protesters responded to calls on Internet social networks and marched from the center of Tripoli towards the ruins of the Al-Shaab al-Dahman mausoleum.

"Libya is not Afghanistan!" shouted one woman protester, alluding to the destruction by the Taliban militia of that country's famous Buddha statues at Bamiyan.

"We reject extremism," "No to the destruction of monuments" and "Islam rejects tombs being profaned" read some of the slogans on placards carried by protesters.

Prime Minister Abdelrahim al-Kib has come under fire in recent weeks over the work of his government, amid a spate of violence that has rocked parts of the country, including Tripoli where twin car bombings killed two people a week ago.

Authorities have blamed loyalists of now slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi's ousted regime for the attacks which hit as Muslims celebrated the feast of Eid al-Fitr.

The bombings triggered a wave of criticism of the security services which are made up mostly of former rebels.

On Thursday, the national assembly, which was elected in July, met in closed session to discuss security problems across the country, with Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali reportedly coming in for heavy criticism.

On Sunday, Abdelali resigned.

(AFP)

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