Liberal coalition claims lead in historic election


A liberal coalition of 65 parties claimed to have taken an early lead in Libya's first elections last night following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, as preliminary vote counts started coming in from across the country.

The country's post-revolutionary administration and its Western sponsors declared the holding of the polls as a triumph of democracy.

US President Barack Obama said in a statement: "The United States is proud of the role that we played in supporting the Libyan revolution and protecting the Libyan people, and we look forward to working closely with the new Libya."

Many Libyans celebrated the historic elections. "Allahu akbar (God is greatest), this is the freedom era – for the first time Sirte is free," chanted one woman in Sirte.

A total of 1.7 million of some 2.8 million registered voters had cast their ballots, a turnout of around 60 per cent.

There was violence in the east of the country, with polling stations attacked and ballot papers and boxes destroyed in Benghazi, Ras Lanuf, Ajdabiya, Brega and Tobruk. However, some of the centres were later reopened for voting and in the rest of the country polling took place relatively unhindered.

Opponents of the election in the east, where the uprising began last year, want a federal structure with a large degree of autonomy for regions. This would leave Benghazi and its hinterland, where much of the country's oil wealth is located, in a position of power.

The election commission refused to endorse the declaration of gains by the liberal coalition led by Mahmoud Jibril. The commission's head, Nouri al-Abar, said: "We are all waiting and we have nothing to suggest that one party is ahead of others."

However, two Islamist parties, the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction Party and Al-Watan, in which Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a former guerrilla fighter who is suing the UK Government for its part in his rendition, is a leading figure, acknowledged that their own polling showed Mr Jibril's coalition was in the lead. But the national election commission said that was premature given the small limited number of returns from polling stations.