Libyans vote in first post-Gaddafi elections


Eager voters cast ballots on Saturday in Libya’s first free national elections for decades after the ouster of dictator Moamer Gaddafi, but protesters disrupted some polling in the troubled east.
In Tripoli, voting got underway with queues of people keen to elect the General National Congress, which will be at the helm of the country for a transition period.
“Words cannot capture my joy, this is a historic day,” said Fawziya Omran, 40, one of the first women in line at the Ali Abdullah Warith school in the heart of the capital. “I’ve made my choice. I hope it is the right choice and that the candidate will not disappoint us,” she told AFP.
Voters in the capital turned up draped in black, red and green flags — the colours of the revolution that toppled Gaddafi last year — while mosques blasted chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
Joy was also palpable in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the uprising. “I feel like my life has been wasted so far, but now my children will have a better life,” said Hueida Abdul Sheikh, a 47-year-old mother of three in line. However, protesters calling for greater representation forced the closure of several polling stations elsewhere in the tense region. Nuri al-Abbar, chairman of the electoral commission, said acts of sabotage, mostly in the east, prevented 101 polling stations from opening.
“Ninety-four percent of polling stations opened,” told reporters in Tripoli, with voting underway in 1,453 out of 1,554 centres.
“Some of the polling stations were not opened. Because of security reasons, logistical materials haven’t reached them,” he said. “We are currently dealing with this, sending material to the polling stations so they can start voting,” he said.
Protesters in the east, unhappy over the distribution of seats in the new assembly, had threatened to sabotage the vote, staging a string of disruptive acts of violence in recent days. In Tripoli, a senior electoral official confirmed there had been some incidents in the east but dismissed reports the vote could be delayed in those areas, stressing they were working towards a solution. “Ninety-two percent of voting centres are open,” he said.
Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who voted in his eastern home town of Al-Bayda, said the situation there was “excellent.” He expressed hope for a successful vote and hailed as a martyr an electoral worker killed on Friday.Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who heads a team of 21 European Union observers, said the vote marks a major milestone in the transition to democracy after 42-years of dictatorship.
“We believe that to have this election in Libya less than one year after the fall of Tripoli is an important achievement,” Lambsdorff told AFP.
“We only hope that the situation remains peaceful across the country. The majority of Libyans want to vote. Eighty percent want to vote.”
On the eve of the ballot, gunfire struck a helicopter in eastern Libya killing an election worker.
Also, five oil facilities were forced to shut down by gunmen who want greater representation for the east in the 200-member congress. And on Sunday, gunmen ransacked the office of the electoral commission in Benghazi.
The make-up of the congress has been a matter of heated debate, with factions such as the federalist movement calling for more seats.