Libyans storm transitional gov't HQ
January 21, 2012
BENGHAZI, Libya — Hundreds of angry Libyans on Saturday stormed the transitional government's headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi, carting off computers, chairs, and desks while the country's interim leader was still holed up in the building.
Libyans have grown increasingly frustrated with the pace and direction of reforms in the country more than three months after the end of the civil war that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Those concerns spurred residents in Benghazi, where the uprising against longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi broke out in February, to begin protests nearly two weeks ago to demand transparency and justice from the country's new leaders.
The melee at the National Transitional Council's headquarters began after protesters broke through the gates using hand grenades and streamed into the grounds of the headquarters. They banged on the building's doors and demanded officials meet with them.
In a bid to calm tensions, NTC chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil tried to address the crowd from a second-floor window, but protesters began throwing bottles at him.
Protesters then torched Abdul-Jalil's armored Land Cruiser and broke into the headquarters itself, smashing windows to get inside and cart off furniture and electronics.
A security official in the building said a team of some 50 guards dressed as civilians were trying to calm the protesters.
The official, who served as a revolutionary commander during the civil war, said Abdul-Jalil was still in the building and was refusing to leave. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Some of the protesters pitched tents weeks ago outside the NTC's headquarters to protest a set of election laws they say were drafted by the interim leaders without consulting the public.
"The election laws have not been approved by thousands of Libyans and do not honor those who died for our freedom," said Tamer al-Jahani, a lawyer taking part in the protest. "We don't want to replace one tyrant with another."
The NTC is expected to soon pass the packet of laws, which specify how elections for a transitional parliament will be held. The council only took into account public suggestions through an online survey.
The NTC's handling of the draft laws has sparked criticism that the council is not living up to its democratic ideals.
Last week, NTC official Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga was assaulted in Benghazi by protesters angry at what they said is the NTC's lack of transparency.
Some demonstrators were demanding more rights for fighters wounded during the civil war.
Protester Ahmed Boras accused the NTC of sidelining anti-Qaddafi fighters.
"It seems to us that these people are no different than Qaddafi and they only speak the language of force," he said.
BENGHAZI, Libya – The deputy head of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) was roughed up on Thursday by university students in the eastern city of Benghazi, in a rare incident that indicates a growing popular discontent with Libya’s new rulers.
Benghazi, the cradle of Libya’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, has witnessed a number of protests over the past few months demanding the new rulers sack officials who served under Gaddafi.
The protesters in Benghazi also called on the NTC to be transparent about its financial dealings, including how billions of dollars in Libyan assets were being spent.
Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the NTC, was surrounded by a crowd of angry protesters and jostled before he was pulled away to safety.
“Some people pulled me away from the mob,” he said. “I think this incident is aimed at tarnishing the standing of the National Transitional Council.”
He was attending a memorial ceremony at a Benghazi university for those killed during the civil war that overthrew Gaddafi.
Ghoga said the incident was a result of what he described as an incitement campaign against him. He said he came to the event without a security detail except for his driver.
Attiya al-Ojeli, a university professor at the Benghazi University, said a group of students outside the hall chanted “Go away, Go away!” as Ghoga entered the hall.
He said Ghoga insisted on facing the crowd against the advice of the university.
The incident is particularly embarrassing for the NTC because Benghazi was where the revolt against Gaddafi started in February last year, it was for months the NTC’s base, and it is the main powerbase for many of Libya’s new rulers.
The new Libyan government is grappling with a number of issues, including disbanding the militias who have carved the country up into rival fiefdoms, forming police and military forces and creating jobs for thousands of jobless youths.
Most Libyans still back their new rulers but some are starting to express the view that, five months after Gaddafi’s rule ended, more progress should have been made.
© Thomson Reuters 2012