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Gunmen surround foreign ministry in Libya capital

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Gunmen on Sunday surrounded Libya's foreign ministry demanding it be "cleansed of agents" of ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi, AFP correspondents said, as Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the interior ministry was also attacked.

Zeidan also said that gunmen attempted to storm the headquarters of Libyan state television.

Armed men prevented foreign ministry staff from entering their building in Tripoli as they encircled it, correspondents said.

Around 30 vehicles, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, and dozens of armed men surrounded the offices, they reported.

An official, who declined to be named, acknowledged that the gunmen's demands that officials from the previous regime and still working in the ministry be removed were "legitimate".

But he said it did not justify "paralysing the whole work of a ministry" and criticised the group's "extremely offensive" behaviour.

The gunmen said they wanted the foreign ministry to be "cleansed of agents" of the former regime and stressed they will stand their ground until their demands are met.

They also warned they could spread their action to other ministries.

"Political exclusion is an obligation," one of the gunmen said, adding that former regime officials still hold key jobs at the foreign ministry.

Zeidan urged people to help the government in resisting such armed groups.

"There are people who want to destabilise the country and terrorise foreigners and embassies. Hopefully, citizens will face them," he said.

He noted that the encircling of the foreign ministry comes five days after the attack against the French embassy in Tripoli and said Sunday's action was likely aimed to "scare foreign companies and embassies".

Last Tuesday, a devastating car bomb attack on the French embassy wounded a girl living nearby and two guards.

The General National Congress, Libya's highest political authority, is studying proposals for a law to exclude former Kadhafi regime officials from top government and political posts.

The proposed law could affect several senior figures in the government, and has caused waves in the country's political class.

In March, demonstrators encircled the assembly, trapping members in the building for several hours as they called for the adoption of the law.

After the siege was lifted, gunmen targeted Congress chief Mohammed Megaryef's motorcade without causing any casualties.

Libya's government is struggling to assert its influence across the country, where former rebels who fought Kadhafi in the 2011 uprising still countrol much of the territory.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130428/gunmen-surround-foreign-ministry-libya-capital-1