Joyful Libyans brave violence to grasp free vote

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Crowds of joyful Libyans, some with tears in their eyes, parted with the legacy of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship on today as they voted in the first free national election in 60 years.

But in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of last year's uprising but where many now want more autonomy from the interim government in Tripoli, protesters stormed a handful of polling stations and publicly burned hundreds of ballot papers.

Authorities said gunmen prevented voters from entering some polling stations in the eastern oil port town of Ras Lanuf and other centres in the restive south failed to open, but said that

Overall, 94 per cent of stations were running normally.

Libyans, most voting for the first time after four decades of Gaddafi rule, are choosing a 200-member assembly which will elect a prime minister and a cabinet before preparing full parliamentary elections next year under a new constitution.

Candidates with Islamic agendas dominate the field of more than 3,700 hopefuls, suggesting Libya will be the next Arab Spring country - after Egypt and Tunisia - to see religious parties secure a grip on power.

In the capital Tripoli, a loud cry of "Allahu akbar" ("God is greatest") went up when voting began at one polling station, a converted school building abuzz with the chatter of queueing locals.

"I am a Libyan citizen in free Libya," said Mahmud Mohammed Al-Bizamti. "I came today to be able to vote in a democratic way. Today is like a wedding for us."

Security was light in the coastal capital, where cars raced through the streets, horns honking and passengers waving the red, green and black Libyan national flag out of the window.

In Benghazi, protesters stormed a polling station just after voting started and set fire to hundreds of ballot slips in a public square in a bid to undermine the election's credibility.

Witnesses said at least four polling stations had been hit in such attacks. One man was shot in the arm and taken to hospital with heavy bleeding after a stand-off between vote boycotters and those in favour of the elections.

"There wasn't enough security at the station to stop the attackers," Nasser Zwela, 28, told Reuters, saying protesters armed with assault rifles had stormed one local polling station and shouted at everyone to stop voting.

Western supporters of the Nato-backed uprising that overthrew Gaddafi dismissed suggestions the setbacks proved the election lacked legitimacy.

"I think the best thing for Libya is not to have Muammar Gaddafi massacring his own people ... So far, all indications are that this election was free and fair," U.S. Senator John McCain said in Tripoli after being briefed by poll officials.

UN envoy to Libya Ian Martin told reporters in the capital: "I think we can see already that the problems are in a small enough proportion of the polling centres that it's not going to undermine the overall credibility of the election."

Some voters struggled with procedures for casting their ballot. In one central Tripoli district, two women disappeared into a voting booth together before an election worker hurriedly explained they must vote alone.

"Some of these women are crying as they vote. It is such an emotional day," said one poll official.

Polls close at 8 pm (1800 GMT) but meaningful partial results are not due until tomorrow and a full preliminary count is not expected until Monday at the earliest.

Many easterners, whose region is home to the bulk of Libya's oil sector, are angry that the east has been allotted only 60 seats in the assembly compared with 102 for the west.

Yesterday, armed groups shut off half of Libya's oil exports to press demands for greater representation in the assembly. At least three major oil-exporting terminals were affected.

"The country will be in a state of paralysis because no one in the government is listening to us," Hamed al-Hassi, a former rebel who now heads the High Military Council of Cyrenaica, the name of the eastern region, told Reuters.

Port agents said the oil depot closures would last 48 hours but the government sent a team on Saturday to negotiate a full reopening of a sector that provides most of Libya's revenues.

In Gaddafi's home town of Sirte, a former fishing village on the Mediterranean Sea, the mood before the polls was restrained and some said they would not vote. But no trouble was reported on election day.

Analysts say it is hard to predict the political make-up of the new assembly, but parties and candidates professing an attachment to Islamic values dominate and very few are running on an exclusively secular ticket.

The Justice and Construction offshoot of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood is tipped to do well, as is al-Watan, the party of former CIA detainee and Islamist insurgent Abdel Hakim Belhadj.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world