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02 December 2023

Enraged Benghazi residents feel ignored, forgotten

By Reuters

The university professor, dressed immaculately in a pinstripe suit and waistcoat, points in despair to the crumbling buildings and rubbish-strewn streets of Libya's second city Benghazi.

"You can see around you that there is no change. There has been no money spent on infrastructure and salaries are not being paid," said Ali al-Rabia.

His voice rises in anger as he talks of how residents in Benghazi, birthplace of last year's revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, had yet to see any benefit and had lost respect for the interim government.

Anger in Benghazi has been simmering since October when the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) moved to the capital Tripoli after declaring Libya liberated from Gaddafi's 42-year rule. Months later, residents say they feel forgotten.

"The government is working without a judiciary or police. We know they are getting money from the over one million barrels of oil they sell a day, but where is it being spent?" Rabia said in fluent English.
"But the worst of it is that people who worked with Gaddafi are being appointed into the interim government," he added, echoing a complaint from many in Benghazi who say they fear the corruption and nepotism of Gaddafi's rule did not die along with the dictator.

Frustration boiled over on Saturday when a crowd demanding the government's resignation smashed windows and forced their way into the NTC's Benghazi headquarters. The council's chief, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, was trapped inside for several hours.

The protesters, many of them armed with machineguns and bayonets, had broken through the main metal gates and into the courtyard of the compound, witnesses said.

Abdel Jalil attempted to placate the crowd, but retreated into the building after water bottles were thrown at him.

Home-made bomb explosions were reported 500 metres from the compound. Although not intended to harm, protesters say they were a warning to the NTC.

On Sunday, Abdel Jalil said such action could drag Libya into a "bottomless pit. There is something behind these protests that is not for the good of the country."

The NTC made a peace offering to the protesters, the resignation of the NTC-appointed city mayor, Saleh El-Ghazal, and the promise of a new, elected leader. That was quickly followed by the resignation of NTC vice-president Abdel Hafiz Ghoga.

Many in Benghazi said Ghoga should be barred from working for the NTC as he was secretary of the solicitors' syndicate under Gaddafi. On Thursday, Ghoga was jostled by an angry crowd of students when he visited a university in Benghazi.