Crowds of overjoyed Libyans, some with tears in their eyes, parted with the legacy of Muammar Gaddafi on Saturday as they voted in the first free national election in more than half a century.
But in Benghazi, where last year’s uprising began, protesters stormed polling stations and burned hundreds of ballot papers seeking more autonomy from the interim government
Libyans are voting to chose a 200-member assembly which will elect a prime minister and cabinet before laying the ground for full parliamentary elections next year under a new constitution.
Candidates with Islamic agendas dominate the field of more than 3,700 hopefuls, suggesting Libya will be the next Arab Spring country – after Egypt and Tunisia – to see religious parties secure a grip on power.
Witnesses in Benghazi said protesters stormed a polling station just after voting started and publicly burnt hundreds of ballot slips in a bid to undermine the election’s credibility.
One local election commission worker suggested that at atleast two other polling stations were looted, in which a man was shoot in the arm and rushed to a local hospital.
Outside of one polling station, voters linked their arms together to insure that the elections would not be disrupted.
In Tripoli, voting was smooth. A loud cry of “Allahu akbar” went up inside a polling station there as the first woman cast her vote in a converted school building.
“I can’t describe the feeling. We paid the price, I have two martyrs in my family. I am certain the future will be good, Libya will be successful,” Zainab Masri, a 50-year-old teacher, said of her first experience of voting.
“I am a Libyan citizen in free Libya,” said Mahmud Mohammed Al-Bizamti. “I came today to be able to vote in a democratic way. Today is like a wedding for us.”