The deputy head of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Sunday he was resigning after a series of protests against the new government which the country’s leader warned could drag Libya into “bottomless pit.”
On Sunday, around 4,000 students protested against the deputy head of the NTC, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, at the University of Ghar Yunis in the former rebel stronghold, an AFP correspondent reported.
They chanted slogans against Ghoga, demanding his resignation from the NTC and condemning the arrest of 11 of their colleagues for allegedly manhandling him at the campus last week.
Ghoga, who also serves as official spokesman for the NTC, has come under increasing opposition from residents of Benghazi, the cradle of last year’s uprising which toppled and killed Qaddafi.
Accused of opportunism because of his belated defection from the Qaddafi regime, Ghoga was mobbed by students on Thursday and had to flee the university after a tirade of abuse from the angry crowd.
But the NTC has so far staunchly backed him.
It said that “every attack or aggression against the National Transitional Council represents an attack on the sovereignty of the Libyan people and its glorious revolution.”
Ghoga represented the “highest legitimate authority” until the election of a constitutional assembly in June, said a statement.
The NTC has the support of the Western powers who helped force out Qaddafi in a nine-month conflict, but it is unelected, has been slow to restore basic public services, and some Libyans say too many of its members are tarnished by ties to Qaddafi.
Abdel Jalil speaking
Speaking to reporters at a hotel in Benghazi, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of Libya’s NTC, warned the protests risked undermining the country’s already fragile stability.
“We are going through a political movement that can take the country to a bottomless pit,” he said. “There is something behind these protests that is not for the good of the country.”
“The people have not given the government enough time and the government does not have enough money. Maybe there are delays, but the government has only been working for two months. Give them a chance, at least two months.”
The protests in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, are particularly troubling for the NTC because the city was the birthplace of the revolt against Qaddafi’s 42-year rule. It was the site of the NTC’s headquarters during the revolt.
They also demanded more transparency in the NTC and said they oppose “opportunists” from joining the ruling body.
During the Saturday protest, demonstrators armed with stones and iron bars hurled home-made grenades at the NTC offices and entered the building before setting its front ablaze, witnesses and council members told AFP.
They threw plastic bottles at Abdel Jalil who is respected across Libya for his active role in the revolt against Qaddafi. He was later escorted out of the premises.
“They set fire to the front (of the office), broke windows and damaged one of the armored cars that was there,” said Fathi Baja, NTC member and the council's political affairs chief.
He said he was unaware who was behind the attack.
“We do not know. Some were very young, like 15 years, some older. There were many. Some called for the resignation of the entire NTC except... Mustafa Abdel Jalil and another member,” Baja told AFP by phone from Benghazi.
The violence, the first such act against the NTC, forced is members to meet in secret on Sunday to discuss and adopt the nationa’s new electoral law.
“We didn’t finish our work yesterday. A meeting is scheduled today to discuss and adopt the electoral law,” said Salwa al-Digheili who heads NTC’s legal affairs.
“The meeting will take place at an undisclosed location for security reasons,” she said.
The NTC had made public a draft election law in early January, with an article setting aside 10 percent of the 200 seats in the proposed constituent assembly for women members.
The provision drew strong criticism from women’s and rights groups.
The draft law also barred Libyans holding dual nationality and those who benefited under Qaddafi’s regime from contesting elections. Candidates must be aged at least 25, under the draft, and the minimum age for voters is 18.