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Tripoli residents want heavily armed revolutionary fighters out of the capital
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) ' More than a month since revolutionary forces seized the Libyan capital, the heavy thud of anti-aircraft guns and the crackle of automatic weapon fire still echoes across the city, and bands of young fighters in pickup trucks bristling with heavy weapons cruise the streets.
Revolutionary brigades from across the country swept into Tripoli late last month in a stunning offensive, effectively ending Moammar Gadhafi's nearly 42-year rule and sending the longtime dictator into hiding. While Tripoli's residents are still reveling in their newfound freedoms, they are also beginning to grow weary of the continued presence of hundreds of armed fighters in the city.
The growing anger spurred locals to set up the Tripoli Support Group, which is now petitioning Libya's new rulers, known as the National Transitional Council, to get a handle on the revolutionary brigades in the city.
"We have witnessed negative behavior from the revolutionaries in Tripoli, and the NTC has fallen short because it hasn't given the local council any authority or support to rein in the revolutionaries," said Mohammed Shabbu, a businessman who helped set up the Tripoli Support Group.
Shabbu is drafting a letter to the NTC calling on it to order all outside revolutionary brigades to leave Tripoli. He warned that their long-term stay has sapped some of the support residents feel for them.
"Sometimes you ask a young child, 'Do you like the revolutionaries?' The child will answer, 'No, they scare me,'" he said.
The Tripoli Support Group was founded by Sadeg Zaroug, a 63-year old architect. He said the group boasts more than 100 members and aims to act as a watchdog over the NTC and the local council.
"We want to observe the excesses of the NTC and local councils," Zaroug said.
Revolutionary fighters from across the country flooded Tripoli during the capital's fall, rolling in from Misrata, Benghazi and Zintan in their spray-painted, pockmarked pickup trucks outfitted with anti-aircraft guns.
But then they stayed, setting up bases in parks and Gadhafi's old homes and beach houses, patrolling neighborhoods in search of weapons and Gadhafi loyalists, usually without direct orders to do so from the military council or field commanders.
Now, they clog the city streets downtown, sticking out in the bumper to bumper traffic, the young men sporting revolutionary-chic ' bushy beards, red berets and fatigues. They position their AK-47s so the barrel sticks out the window, and occasionally fire a few rounds skyward.
Since Gadhafi's fall, visiting U.S. and European officials have urged the NTC to assert its authority over the revolutionary brigades and rein them in. The NTC, which is struggling to establish a new government, has publicly vowed to do so, but also has given mixed messages to the fighters.
Last month, NTC head Mustafa Abdel-Jalil urged brigades from outside Tripoli to clear out of the city and leave security to Tripoli's citizens and brigades. But the following day, pressured by the revolutionary brigades who felt insulted, he backtracked and asked the brigades to stay on and secure the city.
A spokesman for the revolutionary military, Col. Ahmed Bani, dismissed concerns about the fighters, saying it was too early to talk about disarming revolutionaries.
"As long as Gadhafi is free, the young men will hold on to their arms and it will be impossible to take the arms away from them," Bani told the AP. "But when Gadhafi is caught they will return to their normal jobs and let go of the arms."
But more than a month since Tripoli fell, Shabbu, 40, and other Tripoli residents are losing patience.
"We owe a lot to the revolutionaries and won't forget their efforts, but it's time for them to leave our city and leave us to police it," he said.
Shabbu said the Tripoli Support Group drafted a request to Abdel-Jalil and will hold a protest Friday to impose an order for brigades from outside Tripoli to formally leave the city with their heavy weapons.
While he supported the decision to keep the revolutionaries around when Tripoli was falling, Shabbu said now that the city was stabilizing, the armed revolutionaries were acting inappropriately.
"They are shooting chaotically, fighting over the location of their bases, raiding homes with no warrants and for no real reasons," Shabbu said.
He said that Tripoli needed a civilian police service, complete with a new patrol cars, logo and uniforms. "People need to see that the security is run by people different from Gadhafi's era so they can love the police as their new protectors," Shabbu said.