Count under way in Libya vote clouded by deadly attacks
June 26 2014 10:28 PM

People stand next to the wreckage of a car that exploded outside the parliament building where members were drafting the new Libyan constitution in Al Bayda yesterday. There were no casualties in the blast, local media said.

The count was under way yesterday in a Libyan general election overshadowed by deadly violence in second city Benghazi, including the killing of a leading women’s rights activist.

Authorities hope the elections will pave a way out of the turmoil that has gripped the country since the 2011 ouster of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Masked men broke into the home of liberal activist Salwa Bugaighis in Benghazi, an Islamist bastion, just hours after polls closed on Wednesday in an attack that drew international condemnation.

“Mrs Bugaighis was stabbed in several parts of her body but the cause of death was a bullet wound to the head,” said a spokesman for the Benghazi Medical Centre.

US Ambassador Deborah Jones called the killing “heartbreaking” on Twitter, denouncing “a cowardly, despicable, shameful act against a courageous woman and true Libyan patriot.”

Seven soldiers deployed to provide polling day security in Benghazi were also killed, and 53 wounded, in what security officials said was an attack on their convoy by Islamist militia.

Benghazi was the birthplace of the Nato-backed uprising that toppled and killed Gaddafi. It has become a stronghold of Islamist militia, and was the scene of a deadly 2012 attack by jihadists on the US consulate.

Tensions have been raised further by an armed campaign launched by a rogue former rebel commander last month to rid the eastern city of Islamists, which has drawn many regular army units to his side.

The UN Support Mission in Libya expressed regret that “once again, Benghazi witnesses a bloody attack, the (latest) of a series largely targeting civilians.”

There was polling day violence in western Libya too, with gunmen seizing ballot boxes from five polling stations in Al Jemil, forcing voting in the town to be abandoned.

There was no election either in the eastern city of Derna - a jihadist stronghold - or in swathes of the southern Kufra region.

Polling for the 16 of the 200 seats in parliament that those areas provide will be reorganised a later date, the electoral commission said.

Just 42% of the 1.5mn registered voters turned out on Wednesday, according to the commission’s preliminary estimates.

The number of registered voters was itself a far cry from the more than 2.7mn who signed up two years ago for Libya’s first ever free election.

Almost 3.5mn Libyans are eligible to vote but enthusiasm for the electoral process has fallen dramatically in the face of the persistent turmoil.

British ambassador Michael Aron echoed the condemnation of the killing of Bugaighis, a lawyer and a feminist who served on the National Transitional Council, the political wing of the rebellion.

“Devastated about horrific murder of Salwa Bugaighis. Leadinglight of # 17FebRevolution & human rights champion. Sad day for # Libya,” he tweeted.

In the past few weeks, Libya has been rocked by a crisis that sees two rival cabinets jostling for power in a crippling showdown between Islamists and liberals, as violence rages in the east.

The heavily armed rebels who ousted and killed Gaddafi have carved out their own fiefdoms in the deeply tribal country, some even seizing oil terminals and crippling crude exports from a sector key to government revenues.

The General National Congress, or parliament, which has served as Libya’s highest political authority since the revolt, was elected in the free July 2012 polls.

But it has been mired in controversy and accused of hogging power, with successive governments complaining its role as both executive and legislative authority has tied their hands in taming the militias.

The crisis came to a head in February when the assembly, whose term had been due to expire, decided to prolong its mandate until December.

That sparked street protests and forced lawmakers to call Wednesday’s election.




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