BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Hundreds of people, including police and soldiers, protested in Libya's second biggest city on Friday, calling on militias to lay down their weapons as the government tries to impose its authority on a myriad of armed groups months after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
Chanting "Army and police, we want nothing else" and "No militias, no brigades, one army, one flag", about 300 people took to the streets of Benghazi, including soldiers driving a convoy of about 50 military and police vehicles.
Militias fought to end Gaddafi's 42-year rule, but six months later their heavily-armed units still occupy government buildings and patrol the streets, answering only to their own commanders and flouting the authority of the country's new rulers.
The National Transitional Council (NTC), or interim leadership, wants militias to fuse into the new national police force and army, but so far only a small proportion of the militiamen have joined up.
"We call on the armed groups and militias that occupy the army camps, police stations, schools or any other state-owned properties to hand them over immediately," one air force officer told the crowd which gathered in the eastern city's central Freedom Square.
"Otherwise, we will take the proper procedures to get these properties back, even if it means by force."
Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al has warned the militias to put down their arms or face confrontation with the new national security forces.
International rights groups and the United Nations have identified the militias as one of the biggest challenges to stability as Libya tries to build new institutions.
Underscoring how volatile the North African country remains, 18 people were killed this week in clashes between rival militias in western Libya. In another confrontation that has underlined Libya's fragility, about 150 people were killed in clashes last month between rival tribes in the southern city of Sabha.
"We want to activate the police and the army," Ahmed Azzouz, a soldier, said at the protest. "If the militias want to join then they are welcome, but if not, they should stay away and let us do our job."
(Reporting by Mohammad Al-Tommy; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Myra MacDonald)