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Explosions rock Libya's Benghazi, protesters take to streets

By Feras Bosalum and Ghaith Shennib

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Explosions rocked the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Sunday in what appeared to be attacks on judicial buildings, a security official said, sparking protests a day after more than 1,100 inmates escaped during a prison riot there.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Benghazi's streets denouncing the latest violence, according to residents.

Thirteen people were slightly wounded in one of the blasts which targeted a court in the north of the city, said Interior Ministry spokesman Rami Kaal.

Mohammed al-Hijazy, a spokesman for Benghazi security operations, added: "Assailants threw an explosive device under a car as it was parking in front of the court."

Hijazy said another explosion occurred in front of an office belonging to the justice ministry, but it was not immediately clear what had happened in that incident.

Both blasts happened around the time families were breaking their Ramadan fast.

Residents living near the court said the building, and others nearby, had sustained significant damage. Windows were blasted out and rubble was scattered on the ground.

"It was very loud and I saw the smoke," resident Hassan Bakoush said. "Some balconies of nearby buildings are damaged."

Armed violence and lawlessness, caused in part by militia groups who often do as they please, has hobbled governance in large areas of the oil-producing North African state following the 2011 war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

Protesters took to Benghazi's streets shouting anti-government and anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans, demonstrator Abdulhay Mohammed said, echoing scenes from two days ago.

"We are protesting against weak security. People are angry," he said. "People are shouting 'Benghazi wake up', 'The people want the Muslim Brotherhood out' and 'Zeidan gather your belongings'," he added, referring to Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

ASSASSINATIONS PROMPT PROTESTS

Hundreds of protesters had attacked the Benghazi and Tripoli offices of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood and the headquarters of a liberal coalition in the capital after demonstrations turned violent late on Friday.

Those protests were prompted by the killing of a prominent political activist and critic of the Brotherhood, Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, shot after leaving a Benghazi mosque. Two military officers were also killed in the city on Friday.

"These were professional killers, not normal criminals," Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani told reporters in Tripoli after visiting Benghazi, referring to Friday's assassinations.

He added that the government wanted a team from "friendly" countries and U.N. Security Council members to investigate the violence.

Zeidan has said he would reshuffle his cabinet and reorganize the government to cope with the "urgent" situation in the country. A spokesman for Libya's legislature said its members would hold an emergency meeting on Monday.

Earlier on Sunday, officials said that about 100 inmates out of 1,117 who escaped during a riot in Kuafiya prison on the outskirts of Benghazi on Saturday had been recaptured.

Officials said there had been an attack on the jail compound from outside as well as a riot inside after which some prisoners set their cloths and bed sheets on fire. Guards opened the gates to let them escape the fire, Marghani said.

Residents had helped guards to arrest some escapees.

Mohammed Sharif, head of security in Benghazi, said some prisoners had turned themselves in and others had been captured.

Officials said the escapees included criminals from other African states.

Benghazi has seen a wave of violence since last year with attacks on security forces as well as foreign targets, including the assault on the U.S. mission last September in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

(Reporting by Feras Bosalum, Ghaith Shennib, Ulf Laessing and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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