11 February 2013

Libyan Leaders Visit Benghazi

Tripoli — The second largest Libyan city has turned into a "hotbed of tension", local residents say, amid local concerns about the government's ability to effectively police Benghazi on its own.

Amid mounting concerns about the Tripoli government's ability to restore order, Libyan General National Congress President Mohamed Magarief and Prime Minister Ali Zidan visited Benghazi on Friday (February 8th).

The national leaders met local councillors, who voiced frustration at the pace of economic and security improvements in Libya's second largest city.

A number of civil society organisations plan to march this Friday (February 15th) to push for greater federalism, as well as the formation of a 60-member constitution drafting committee.

Activists are also calling for stepping up security, activating the army and police and holding previous governments accountable.

In Benghazi, people are demanding that corporations once based in the city but transferred to Tripoli under Kadhafi - including the National Oil Corporation, Brega Oil Company and Libyan Airways - be returned to the east.

On Saturday, a number of Benghazi political parties issued a joint statement criticising the GNC for mismanagement and inaction, and demanding that the government improve security.

Signatories to the statement included the Justice and Construction Party, the Party of Change, the Islamist al-Wattan Party and the National Front.

"Libya needs assistance and expertise in the field of security, since this is one of the biggest challenges facing it at the current stage, agreed Benghazi native Hussein Elmsallati, a 39-year-old anchor for Libya FM Channel.

"I think also that we should co-ordinate with the United Nations in terms of consultations and programmes on national reconciliation and mechanisms of action for the committees drafting the constitution," Elmsallati added.

Meanwhile, residents of Benghazi said they hoped that the visit by Zidan and Magarief could lead to change.

"This is a visit to the city where the first spark of the revolution erupted," Nahla Bashir said. "Now, this city is a hotbed of tension."

She added that the meeting with the people of the city and eastern region reassured her.

Youssef al-Oreibi, another citizen from Benghazi, said: "This unexpected visit...comes at a time when the street in Benghazi is very tense. I hope that it will be a starting point to realise tangible things for the benefit of Libya."

Engineering student Tansim al-Zubair said he thought the Benghazi visit was a "good step that will put an end to discord, federalism and centralisation".

"We hope that the general budget will be released and approved, and that the government will start working to solve many problems, overcome difficulties, open projects to revitalise economy, and in this way building will start and armed manifestations will disappear," al-Zubair added.

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