UK & World News
Libya Elections Go Ahead Amid Fresh Violence
There have been pockets of violence in Libya as the polls close after its first parliamentary elections since the toppling of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Anti-election protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi set fire to hundreds of ballot slips after looting a polling station in the first sign of trouble in the landmark poll.
Some 101 polling stations were reportedly prevented from opening in east Libya due to security issues.
The elections, which will see a 200-member transitional parliament formed, cap a tumultuous transition from last year's civil war.
Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the election as "a historic step towards freedom and accountability", while condemning the "isolated" violent protests.
Turnout was reported to be high despite the disruption which included a gun battle between security forces and anti-election protesters that left one person dead and two injured in Ajdabiyah.
"Today is a landmark moment: for the first time in over 42 years Libyans have exercised their democratic right to choose their leaders and have taken a historic step towards freedom and accountability," Mr Hague said.
"Words cannot capture my joy, this is a historic day," said Fawziya Omran, one of the first women in line at the Ali Abdullah Warith school in the heart of the capital Tripoli.
"I've made my choice. I hope it is the right choice and that the candidate will not disappoint us," added the 40-year-old.
Hueida Abdul Sheikh, a 47-year-old mother of three in line at a polling station in Banghazi, said: "I feel like my life has been wasted so far, but now my children will have a better life."
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who is heading a team of 21 European Union observers, said the poll marked 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," he said.
"We only hope that the situation remains peaceful across the country," he added.
However, the vote is being held amid intense regional rivalries and calls for a boycott.
Tensions have been brewing with many in Libya's oil-rich east expressing their anger at the NTC-issued election laws.
Although they are said to be based on population, the rules allocate their region less than a third of the parliamentary seats, with the rest going to the western region that includes Tripoli and the sparsely-settled desert south.
Speaking from Benghazi, Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford said: "There certainly has been a lot of trouble in and around Benghazi and there is a certain amount of tension.
"There is security - they don't want people to be too scared to vote.
"However, the overwhelming feeling in the city, and throughout Libya, is that they desperately want this vote to go ahead. The feeling is one of enthusiasm."
An electoral worker was killed on Friday as campaigning came to an end when gunmen fired at a helicopter carrying voting material for the polls.
The helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing outside the eastern town of Benghazi. It was not immediately clear who was responsible.
Col Gaddafi's death brought a close to the uprising, but the end of his four-decade rule left the country deeply divided along regional, tribal and ideological lines.
The parliament will elect a new transitional government to replace one appointed by the National Transitional Council (NTC), the organisation that led the rebel side during the eight-month war and held power in its aftermath.
In what it called an attempt to defuse the row, the NTC decreed on Thursday that the new parliament will not be responsible for naming the panel that will draft a new constitution.
Instead, the drafters will be directly elected by the public in a separate vote at a later date.
But this has not satisfied some in the east, who are pressing for a boycott.
"We don't want Tripoli to rule all of Libya," said Fadlallah Haroun, a former rebel commander in the east's regional capital, Benghazi.
Friday's helicopter attack was one of a series of violent incidents in the run-up to the vote - the official results of which will not be announced until later this month.
On Thursday, ex-militiamen shut down three eastern oil refineries - in Ras Lanouf, Brega and Sidr - to press the transitional government to cancel the vote, Mr Haroun said.
He said militiamen also have cut the country's main coastal highway linking east to west.
Earlier this week, ex-rebel fighters and others in Benghazi and in the nearby town of Ajdabiya attacked election offices, setting fire to ballot papers.
The elections are expected to test the strength of Islamist parties, which have gained influence in Libya and other nations after dictatorial regimes have been toppled.
Some 2.8 million voters, out of more than three million eligible, have registered for the polls. New parliamentary elections are to be held in 2013, after the constitution is drafted and approved in a referendum.
Observers expect that no party is likely to win an outright majority and the final government may be based on post-election alliances.
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