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Hundreds escape from prison amid riots, fighting around Libya's Tripoli

Rival militias wage fierce battles in suburban Tripoli, causing chaos and state of emergency
Libyans gather where mortar shell landed in capital Tripoli amid heavy fighting (AFP)

About 400 detainees escaped after a riot on Sunday at a prison in the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli, theatre of a week of deadly battles, police said.

"The detainees were able to force open the doors and leave" as fighting between rival militias raged near the prison of Ain Zara, police said in a statement, without specifying what crimes the escapees had committed.

Guards were unable to prevent the prisoners from escaping as they feared for their own lives, the statement said.

A police official contacted by AFP was unable to provide further details.

Most detainees at the prison have been convicted of common crimes or were supporters of former leader Muammar Gaddafi found guilty of killings during the uprising that toppled his government in 2011.

According to a health ministry toll, at least 39 people have been killed and about 100 injured since clashes, including rocket fire, broke out among rival militias on Monday in suburbs south of Tripoli.

According to emergency services, at least 23 rockets fell on the capital on Friday and Saturday, causing fresh casualties.

On Sunday, missiles fell on the al-Fallah camp for displaced Tawergha people, killing two and wounding seven, including two children, Emad Ergeha, an activist following Tawergha issues, told Reuters.

The Tawergha were forced to leave their settlement near the western city of Misrata in the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Gaddafi and have been prevented from going back since.

Ergeha, a Tawergha himself, also posted a video of firefighters extinguishing a blaze and showing severe damage to steel-made containers in the camp.

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"Most of the families have left the camp, fearing more rockets," said Khaled Omrane, a camp resident.

A rocket also hit the Waddan Hotel in central Tripoli near the Italian embassy. Three people were wounded, staff said.

State oil firm NOC confirmed one of its diesel depots used to supply a power station had been hit by a rocket.

The fierce clashes erupted last week between the Seventh Brigade, or Kaniyat, from Tarhouna, a town 65km (40 miles) southeast of Tripoli, against the Tripoli Revolutionaries' Brigades and the Nawasi, two of the capital's largest armed groups.

The Government of National Unity, which is recognised by the international community, on Sunday said it was declaring a state of emergency in the Libyan capital and its environs.

Although the government is formally in charge, it does not control the capital, where armed groups are allied to it but operate with autonomy, often motivated by money and power.