Libyans protest against protracted transition

February 08, 2014 - 2:36:36 am
TRIPOLI: Thousands of Libyans took to the streets peacefully yesterday to protest against a decision by the interim parliament to extend its mandate, amid fears that lingering political instability could unleash fresh violence.

The fears rose after an overnight attack on army headquarters in Tripoli, the latest incident in the growing lawlessness gripping the country since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Leading a transition that has proved chaotic since Kadhafi’s ouster and killing by NATO-backed rebels, the General National Congress was elected in July 2012 for a term of 18 months.

Its mission was to organise elections to a constituent assembly later this month that would be followed by a general election.

But on Monday, the GNC ratified a decision to extend its mandate to December, despite opposition by a large segment of the population critical of its inability to halt Libya’s slide into chaos. Yesterday’s demonstrations in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi — cradle of the 2011 uprising — were peaceful but reflected the tensions gripping Libya. 

In central Tripoli’s Martyr Square and outside Benghazi’s Tibesti hotel, hundreds of protesters gathered and chanted “No to the extension.”

Many of them carried brooms to symbolise their wish to sweep away the interim authorities, whom they blame for the country’s protracted political transition. Others held up red cards and placards with the message: “07/02: Expiry date.” The GNC’s decision to extend its mandate has divided Libyans, stoking tensions in the country and fears of a political vacuum.

The Alliance of National Forces, a liberal grouping and key political force in the country, has sponsored a number of recent demonstrations demanding the dissolution of the GNC.

But the Operations Cell of Revolutionaries, an Islamist militia of ex-rebels said to be close to the army, has lined up behind the GNC, and the powerful armed groups from Libya’s third city Misrata have called the body “a red line.” And rival former rebels from Zintan, in the mountains southwest of Tripoli, an influential force in post-Kadhafi Libya, have vowed to protect any popular movement that goes against the GNC.

Mufti Sadek Al Ghariani, Libya’s top religious authority, has defended “the legitimacy of the GNC” and warned against chaos in the country.

The political bickering comes at a time of uncertainty over the fate of independent Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who defeated an Islamist-backed confidence vote against his government but is still on the defensive.

Yesterday, Zeidan has urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully saying “everything can be achieved peacefully and through dialogue”. And interim Interior Minister Seddik Abdelkarim, who escaped an assassination bid late last month, issued an order late Thursday for security forces to “protect peaceful demonstrators.”