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Libyan election worker killed day ahead of balloting

Less than a year after Moammar Gadhafi's fall, Libyan's vote in what U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon hailed as "a march toward democracy." It's the country's first democratic election in more than half a century as Libyans choose a National Congress. Lindsey Hilsu, Channel 4 Europe, reports.  

BENGHAZI, Libya -- Gunfire killed a Libyan election commission worker riding in a helicopter Friday, officials said.

The helicopter carrying ballots for Saturday's election made a forced landing at Benina International Airport outside the eastern town of Benghazi, an official said.

It was the latest attempt to derail elections in a region where many seek more autonomy and argue they will be under-represented in a new 200-member congress that will name a prime minister and pave the way for full parliamentary polls next year.

"We were preparing to receive the voting material as it arrived on a helicopter from Tripoli but it was hit and one man died," Ahmed Abdelmalik, an employee at an election commission branch told Reuters.

Hamed Al-Hassi, head of the military council for the Cyrenaica region, confirmed the incident but said the identity of the attackers was not immediately known.

Manu Brabo / AP

A Libyan election official works at a polling station Friday in Tripoli.

"A helicopter carrying ballots and flying over the region of Hawari (south of Benghazi) was struck by small arms fire," army spokesman Colonel Ali al-Sheikhi told Agence France Presse.

Earlier protests by groups seeking greater autonomy in the east forced the closure of three ports, shutting down around half of Libya's oil exporting capacity.

On Thursday, the main storage center for election materials in the eastern town of Ajdabiya was badly damaged in a suspected arson attack.

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The elections are Libya's first free national vote in over half a century and come barely a year after the ousting of Moammar Gadhafi by a NATO-backed uprising. Regional and tribal loyalties suppressed under Gadhafi have since come to the fore.

"We expected this issue," Emad El-Sayih, deputy head of Libya's High National Election Commission (HNEC), told Reuters.

"There is no security in this country -- the interior ministry and the army are incapable of protecting the elections. The (election) commission is in a state of depression."

Several East Libya groups want the country's interim rulers to review the allocation of seats in the General National Congress. The  system allocates 100 seats to the west, including Tripoli, 60 to the oil-rich east and 40 to the sparsely settled south. Advocates of federalism are demanding an equal distribution of seats among Libya's regions.

The National Transitional Council has led rebels during the eight-month war and held power in its aftermath.

This article includes reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.

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