Conflict & Justice

Observers praise historic Libyan elections

Observers have praised the organization of Libya’s first free election in nearly five decades, with turnout topping 60 percent, Agence France Presse reported.

The electoral commission said at least 1.6 million Libyans cast a ballot Saturday, and more than 90 percent of polling stations operated normally.

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The people are electing 120 members of the 200-member General National Congress, which will appoint an interim government for Libya.

Despite reports of a “festive” atmosphere in many parts of the country, during the first elections since the fall of toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, there was some unrest in the east of the country.

AFP reported that some polling stations were ransacked by protesters, who burned election materials. At least 23 polling stations were unable to open. The protesters are demanding greater representation in the 200-member congress.

Gunmen also reportedly killed one person and wounded two others near a polling area in the city of Ajdabiya.

Radio France Internationale correspondent Marine Olivesi observed the voting in the former rebel stronghold of Misrata, in the capital Tripoli, and also in Sirte, the home of Gaddafi and last stronghold of the regime.

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She said that people there were divided, and although there are no official figures as yet, turnout in Sirte was likely to have been lower than in the rest of the country, as only a third of people in the town were registered to vote.

“Many of the locals showed enthusiasm, and they stressed that it was critical for them to vote in order to break Sirte’s reputation as Gaddafi’s hometown and for the city would have a say in Libya’s new congress,” Olivesi said, adding that the town had been battered like no other during last year’s uprising, except for perhaps the rebel town of Misrata.

“But many people in Sirte said they were not interested in voting and called for a boycott. We met some a group of young people from Muammar Gaddafi’s tribe who complained being harassment for their loyalty to Libya’s former leader. They said that they felt sidelined and not a part of the new country.”

Ahead of the elections, the protesters forced the closure of oil facilities in two towns in eastern Libya, and an election worker was killed when the helicopter he was traveling in was shot at.

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European Union observers, and the United States, have described the vote as an historic milestone in Libya's transition to democracy.

Preliminary results of the vote are due Monday or Tuesday.