People in Libya are casting their ballots to elect a new Parliament with preliminary results expected to be announced Sunday. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.
A Libya anti-election protester was shot dead in the eastern town of Ajdabiya on Saturday when he tried to steal a ballot box from a polling station during the nation’s first free national poll in 60 years, officials say.
Ajdabiya has been a focus of protests against the election by eastern Libyans who say the vote designed to shake off the legacy of Moammar Gadhafi’s 40-year, one-man rule and elect a 200-member parliament is a sham and want more autonomy for their region. The east had been allotted only 60 seats in the assembly compared to 102 for the west.
An official said by telephone that the protester was killed in an exchange of fire with local people trying to prevent disruption of the election. Two people were wounded.
Elsewhere, Libyans’ joy over voting was tempered by boycott calls, the burning of ballots and attacks on eastern polling centers. The unrest exposed major fault lines in the oil-rich North African nation of 6 million people — the east-west divide and efforts by Islamists to assert power.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) in most places, but delays in starting caused voting to go later in some cities, Al Jazeera reported. In Ajdabiya and other places where voting did not get under way until the afternoon, balloting will go as late as 7 a.m. Sunday, the Arab news agency reported.
Preliminary results are expected to be reported Sunday.
Despite troubles, overall turnout was high, the BBC reported.
Few Libyans remember their last national vote in 1965, when no political parties were allowed, the BBC said, noting even fewer took part in their country's first parliamentary elections in February 1952, shortly after independence.
Mohammed Abed / AFP - Getty Images
Libyan protesters demanding greater representation shout slogans Saturday outside a polling station in the eastern city of Benghazi.
"I feel free at last. It's a feeling I cannot describe: Like a human being," Asmaddin Arifi told the BBC.
Voters flashed the V-for-victory sign as they entered polling centers, The Associated Press reported. Motorists honked their horns as they drove past. Others shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Greater," from their car windows.
In the Mediterranean port city of Benghazi, cradle of the Libyan revolution, pro-autonomy activists Saturday seized electoral papers and ballot boxes. A BBC Arabic reporter said security forces did not intervene.
A day earlier outside Benghazi, gunfire struck a helicopter and killed an election commission worker aboard the flight that was carrying voting materials.
Armed men stopped voters casting their ballots in the port town of Ras Lanuf, the BBC reported.
But Nuri al-Abbar, the head of the election commission, told the BBC that 94 percent of polling stations across the country had opened normally.
The four major contenders in the Libyan race range from the Muslim Brotherhood-linked party and another Islamist coalition on one end of the spectrum to a secular-minded party led by a Western-educated former rebel prime minister on the other.
Despite the divisions and unrest, the prevailing mood was one of triumph.
"We are celebrating today and we want the whole world to celebrate with us," Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib said after he cast his ballot in Tripoli.
This article includes reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.
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