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* Protesters say militia must leave courthouse
* Armed men try to break up demonstration
BENGHAZI, Libya, March 2 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Libyans protested outside the main courthouse in Benghazi on Friday, demanding that a militia which had occupied the building during the revolution leave and allow judges to return to work.
The militia, one of dozens set up during the 2011 uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, has been using the courthouse as its headquarters and wants it to remain a symbol of the revolt that began in the eastern coastal city.
Libyans, tired of lawlessness and keen to see the justice system back up and running, have been demanding in vain that militias lay down their arms and the rule of law be restored.
"We are with the judiciary and with the court. We want the court back and we don't want the judiciary to be marginalised," said Ghalia Bouzaakouk, one of the protesters.
Since Gaddafi's overthrow last year, the National Transitional Council has struggled to impose its authority over the country. The militias set up to fight Gaddafi's forces have largely refused to disarm and join a national security force and the proper rule of law has yet to be established.
Former rebels hold thousands of detainees and the NTC has struggled to have them transferred to state custody from where they could be put on trial.
A group of about a dozen men armed with knives, who protesters believe were hired by the militia, tried to disperse the crowd that gathered in the square outside the courthouse, a focal point of protests during the revolution.
"Attacks against protesters are a crime in every sense of the word. These are definitely hired thugs," said Saad al-Mgasbi, an employee in the attorney general's office.
"What does it mean for them to occupy the court? From my perspective it is standing in the way of the revolution." (Reporting by Mohammed al-Tommy; Writing by Lin Noueihed; By Ben Harding)