Armed protesters calling for more autonomy for Libya’s east stormed the national election commission in Benghazi on Sunday, burning materials and breaking computer equipment outside, less than a week before the North African country holds an election.
About 300 men carried computers and ballot boxes from the building in Libya’s second city and began crushing them while chanting pro-federalist slogans, a correspondent at the scene said.
The violence follows a series of security breaches in the coastal city, which was the cradle of last year’s uprising that ended the 42-year rule of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, adding to concerns about how safe Libya’s first free national elections on Saturday will be.
Candidates, voters and election commission officials have called on the government to beef up security for the polls, which will elect a national assembly, to ensure the legitimacy of the vote.
The protesters were chanting for an equal number of seats in the 200-strong national assembly, election commission employee Haitham al-Taboly said.
The ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) assigned 102 seats for Tripoli and 38 for the east according to the population density of the regions.
The glass doors and windows of the commission were shattered and security forces cordoned off the area around the building.
NTC spokesman Saleh Darhoub said the main materials for the vote had not been damaged because they were stored in a secure a place.
The vote is a crucial milestone in shaping Libya’s new institutions after last year’s revolt.
The Council of Cyrenaica, which seeks autonomy for the eastern region around Benghazi, said it wanted guarantees of fair representation for Libya’s provinces before the election took place.
The protesters began tearing up campaign posters and carried signs that read “Mustafa Abdel Jalil is a traitor of Cyrenaica,” referring to the NTC chairman.
In May, a self-proclaimed autonomous council for Libya’s oil-producing eastern province called on people in the region to boycott the election, saying it would not give adequate representation to the east.