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2 killed in Libyan anti-militia protests

BENGHAZI, Libya -- Two Libyan protesters were killed and dozens wounded early yesterday as hundreds of demonstrators attacked militia compounds in a surge of anger at armed groups in Benghazi whose unchecked powers led to last week's killing of the U.S. ambassador.

For many Libyans, the Sept. 11 attack on the United States Consulate in Benghazi was the last straw in one of the biggest problems Libya has faced since last year's ouster and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi: the multiple mini-armies armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades that are stronger than government security forces.

But in an indication of government fears of a sudden security vacuum without the militias it relies on to keep order, officials called on protesters to respect "legitimate" militias.

While the late Friday protests were planned in advance through social networking sites and fliers, the storming of the heavily armed militia headquarters took many by surprise.

After breaking off from a huge anti-militia march -- the biggest in the eastern city since the fall of Gadhafi's regime last October -- protesters overtook a building used by Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia, set fire to a vehicle and offices after freeing three detainees held in an underground cell. The group is linked to the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Protesters on foot and in cars, some carrying guns and others machetes, moved to another heavy armed compound on Benghazi's outskirts that houses Rafallah Sahati militia.

Panicked, Libyan government officials urged protesters to differentiate between what it called "legitimate and nonlegitimate" militias.

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