Modest and peaceful turnout at protests over GNC extension

By Ahmed Elumami.

Protesters in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square (Photo:Ahmed Elumami)

Protesters in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square (Photo: Ahmed Elumami)

Tripoli, 8 February 2014:

Despite months of planning and weeks of security concerns, yesterday’s protests against the extension of the General National Congress(GNC) beyond 7 February passed without incident, attracting far fewer protesters than anticipated.

Some two thousand people gathered in Tripoli and several hundred in Benghazi yesterday, with still smaller demonstrations reported in other towns, including Shahat, Beida, Tobruk and Ajdabiya. Amidst much flag-waving and chanting, protestors carried brooms and dustbin bags, calling for a clean-up of Congress. “Martyrs, martyrs, for you, Libya,” a group in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square chanted. “Yes to Libya, no to armed groups,” another chanted, referring to the belief held by some that the GNC is heavily-influenced by militias.

“The GNC has adopted a roadmap which gives them more time to exploit their positions for their own gain,” Tripoli protester Wadie Essbaq told the Libya Herald. He added that the lack of response by Congress to ongoing abductions, torture and assassinations across the country was unacceptable.

Tripoli elder, Abdullah Banoun, addressing demonstrators from a stage erected in Martyrs’ Square, said the dignity and freedom of the Libyan people were “red lines” and had to be protected. He added that Libyans would not accept parties or groups which sought to destabilise the country.

Protesters in front of the Tebesti Hotel (Photo:Noora Ibrahim)

Protesters in front of Benghazi’s the Tebesti Hotel (Photo: reproduced with permission)

History lecturer Farida Awad Zunni said that arguments suggesting the removal of the GNC would create a political vacuum, were simply an excuse. “It is essential that Congress goes because they have provided us with nothing and they are wasting public money,” she said.

Independent Benghazi Congressman, Mohamed Busidra, told this paper, however, that the media had exaggerated the public’s desire to see the dissolution of the GNC. “I think personally that everything happening now is due to the political isolation law and Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the National Forces Alliances (NFA),” Busidra said.

Congresswoman Hana Jibril Ufri, Misrata GNC member for the NFA, which has supported the protests, said she accepted the extension on the grounds that it was better to transfer power peacefully rather than leave the country vulnerable to armed groups taking control. She added, however, that Congress had failed and was unable to achieve its goals. This, she said, was unacceptable.

Fears that yesterday’s demonstrations would be marred by violence were unfounded, with most characterised instead by a celebratory atmosphere. Young and old attended Tripoli protests, with families, children and the elderly seen waving flags and joining in the chanting.

The main roads leading to Martyrs’ Square were closed by traffic police and visible security presence was modest.

The roads outside the GNC were blocked by Tripoli Security Directorate yesterday and on-street security remains high in the area, as further protests against Congress are expected at their Sunday session.

A small child waving a flag in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square last night (Photo: To Westcott)

A small child waving a flag in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square last night (Photo: Tom Westcott)

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