CAIRO (AP) — Libyan protesters and militiamen stormed the headquarters of the election commission in the eastern city of Benghazi on Sunday, setting voting slips on fire, a militia commander said, a week before the country holds its first general election in nearly five decades.
In southern Libya, a leader of Libya's Tabu tribe threatened to boycott the election if the government does not withdraw its forces and tanks from a southern desert city where clashes have killed dozens.
The violence and calls for boycotts threaten to tarnish the process of electing a 200-member assembly to form a government and oversee writing of a constitution.
In Benghazi, where the revolt that unseated longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi began last year, Fadallah Haroun, commander of a former rebel militia, said he joined protesters in the attack on the election commission. This came after the ruling transitional council in Tripoli turned down demands to give the east an equal share of seats in the assembly. He said that two other cities in eastern Libya have witnessed similar incidents.
"We want justice," Haroun said. "We lost tens of thousands of martyrs because we want a state built on justice, law and equal rights."
As the situation stands now, Tripoli and western Libya would have 102 seats, while the oil-rich east's share would be 60. The rest would go to the sparsely populated south.
Eastern leaders charge this leaves them with no influence over drafting the constitution.
The July 7 vote will be the country's first nationwide election since the 1960s. Gadhafi, who ruled for 42 years, banned political parties and elections.
Benghazi, the largest city in eastern Libya, suffered marginalization under Gadhafi's rule. In March, top leaders and commanders held a meeting to discuss plans for semi-autonomous rule in the east. The ruling transitional council accused them of trying to split the country into mini-states.
In the south, African Tabu leader Issa Abdel-Majid told The Associated Press by telephone that his tribe will not vote if government troops continue to deploy tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and snipers against Tabu fighters battling a rival Arab tribe, Zwia, in the city of Kufra. He said dozens of Tabu men, women and children have been killed and homes destroyed in the clashes.
Neither government officials nor groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has in the past helped evacuate wounded from Kufra, could immediately determine the number of people killed in the latest round of fighting over the past week.
Armed clashes have erupted several times over the last few months, leaving dozens killed and injured, mainly among the Tabu, the original inhabitants of south Libya, who were heavily suppressed under Gadhafi.
Abdel-Majid said his tribe is calling for an international peacekeeping force to be stationed in Kufra, and for Tabu representatives to be given seats in the country's Cabinet.
"If our demands are not met, we are boycotting the elections," he said.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Rights group Amnesty International's Libya researcher Diana el-Tahawy said the government failed to send a fact-finding mission to Kufra after clashes that killed more than 100 people broke out in February, to determine who was behind the attacks and compensate the victims. Unresolved disputes have boiled over since.
"The (government) is either unwilling or unable to control these various militias," she said.