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Libyans vote in 1st election after Gadhafi’s death

The voting for a 200-seat legislature is being held amid intense regional,tribal and ideological rivalries.

Written by Agencies | Tripoli |
July 7, 2012 4:35:11 pm

Libyans started voting today in the first parliamentary election since last year’s ouster and slaying of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi,with jubilation at this major step towards democracy after decades of erratic one-man rule tempered by boycott calls and violence in the country’s restive east.

The voting for a 200-seat legislature is being held amid intense regional,tribal and ideological rivalries. However,lines began to form outside polling centers more than an hour before they were scheduled to open in the capital Tripoli.

Policemen and army soldiers were guarding the centers,

searching voters as well as election workers. “I have a strange but beautiful feeling today,” said dentist Adam Thabet,waiting outside a polling center in the capital Tripoli.

“We are free at last after years of fear. We knew this day

was coming,but we were afraid it could take long to come.”

Libya’s election is the latest fruit of Arab Spring revolts against authoritarian leaders. It is likely to be dominated by Islamist parties of all shades,a similar outcome to elections held in the country’s neighbors Egypt and Tunisia,which had had their own,though much less bloody,uprisings.

There are four major contenders in the race,ranging from

a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party and another Islamist

coalition on one end of the spectrum to a secular-minded party led by a Western-educated former rebel prime minister on the other.

“This is history in the making,” declared 26-year-old medic Farid Fadil as he waited to vote outside a polling center in Tripoli. “We were ruled by a man who saw himself as the state.”

In the oil-rich east,where there is a thriving autonomy movement,calls for a boycott and pre-election violence have cast a shadow over the vote. Today,protesters torched ballot boxes in 14 out of 19 polling centers in the eastern town of Ajdabiya,according to former rebel commander in the area Ibrahim Fayed.

But in Tripoli,voters celebrated. Libyans flashed the ‘V’ for victory sign as they entered polling centers. Motorists honked their horns as they drove past to greet the voters lined outside. Others shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Greater,” from their car windows.

The election lines brought together Libya’s women,men,young and children accompanying their parents. There were

women in black abayas,or black robes,bearded men,elderly

men and women on wheelchairs or using canes to support themselves.

Some voters arrived at polling centers waving the Libyan red,green and black flag or wrapping it around their shoulders.

Voters distributed sweets to mark the occasion and women hugged each other or sang as they waited in line. Others chanted “the martyrs’ blood will not go in vain,” a reference

to the thousands of anti-regime rebels killed by Gadhafi’s forces. Others held pictures of loved ones killed in last year’s ruinous civil war.

“Look at the lines. Everyone came of his and her own free will. I knew that day would come and Gadhafi would not be there forever,” said Riyadh Al-Alagy,a 50-year-old civil servant in Tripoli. “He left us a nation with a distorted mind,a police state with no institutions. We want to start from zero,” he said,as a woman came out of the polling center ululating and flashing the purple ink on one of her fingers. The ink is used to prevent multiple voting.

Saturday’s vote is a key milestone in a nine-month transition toward democracy for the country after a bitter civil war that ended Gadhafi’s four-decade-long rule.

Many Libyans had hoped the oil-rich nation of 6 million would quickly thrive and become a magnet for investment,but the country has suffered a virtual collapse in authority that has left formidable challenges. Armed militias still operate independently,and deepening regional and tribal divisions erupt into violence with alarming frequency.

On the eve of the vote,gunmen shot down a helicopter carrying polling materials near the eastern city of Benghazi,

the birthplace of the revolution,killing one election worker,said Saleh Darhoub,a spokesman for the ruling National Transitional Council. The crew survived after a crash landing.

Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib vowed the government would ensure a safe vote today,and condemned the election worker’s killing and those who seek to derail the vote.

It was not immediately clear who was behind Friday’s shooting,but it was the latest unrest in a messy run-up to the vote that has put a spotlight on some of the major fault lines in the country the east-west divide and the Islamist versus secularist political struggle.

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