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Libya officials raise death toll from latest migrant disaster to 117, about 185 still missing

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TRIPOLI, Libya — Rescue workers have recovered 12 more bodies off the Libyan coast, raising the death toll from the latest disaster for migrants trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean to 117, Libyan authorities said on Saturday.

Thus far 198 people were rescued and the search is ongoing for missing passengers from two boats that capsized Thursday off the western coastal city of Zuwara with about 500 migrants onboard, the rescue team said in a statement.

Human smuggling of people fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa from Libya has spiked since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Moammer Gadhafi, after which the oil-rich north African country plunged into chaos.

One more Libyan accused of organizing the dangerous crossing was arrested on Friday, bringing the total to three, a security official said.

Later Friday, a protest broke out in the coastal city, with residents carrying signs in English, Arabic and Berber, urging people not to rent houses to smugglers because they are used to hold the migrants until the seas become calm enough for travel.

The three alleged smugglers will be the second group ever to face legal charges for human smuggling in western Libya. The defendants in the first case were released last year under murky circumstances in Zuwara, security officials said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief reporters.

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