TRIPOLI, Libya — One of Libya's highest military officers resigned Sunday after clashes between protesters and a government-aligned militia he was in charge of left 31 people dead in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The bloodshed underscored the growing public anger over the government's failure to build an army capable of reining in the militias that dominate parts of the country nearly two years after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi. The militias have become bolder in trying to shape Libya's politics.
The violence erupted Saturday when protesters in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city, stormed the main camp of Libya Shield, a largely Islamist grouping of militias that are paid by the government to help maintain security. The protesters were demanding that the militias submit to the full authority of Libya's security forces or disarm.
The clashes prompted the army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Youssef al-Mangoush, to resign, citing the unusually high death toll from the violence. Al-Mangoush was due to be replaced soon, and the country's Congress voted in support of accepting his resignation Sunday.
He was in charge of the country's roughly 12 Libya Shield brigades, tasked with putting them on government payroll and directing them. The brigades, though sanctioned by the state, operate as a parallel security structure to the country's police and armed forces.
The militias are rooted in the brigades of rebels who fought to oust Gadhafi in the 2011 uprising. They have since mushroomed in power and size as the government continues to struggle to build its security forces after the civil war.
In Saturday's clashes, witnesses said hundreds of protesters — some of the armed — marched on the Libya Shield's base, apparently outnumbering the militiamen inside.
It remains unclear which side fired first in Saturday's incident. Libyan officials have provided few details of the clashes.
Hospital officials said protesters made up most of 31 dead. The officials spoke anonymously to the Associated Press as they were not authorized to speak to reporters.