Pro-autonomy leaders in eastern Libya have urged followers to cancel planned rallies against central authorities on Friday for fear they could ignite violence as the country marks two years since the start of its revolution.
Various opposition and interest groups in Benghazi, fount of the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, staged mass demonstrations on Friday to demand better security and investment for Libya’s second biggest city.
“Everyone is carrying weapons in Benghazi and there is still general chaos and confusion,” activist Zeid el-Ragas said.
While Sunday will be the actual two-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Gaddafi revolt, celebrations began on Friday in remembrance of the arrest of a human rights lawyer in Benghazi that kindled unrest.
Many Libyans, particularly those in the east, have been urging citizens to take to the streets to voice their discontent over the Tripoli government’s inability to provide security by disarming militias or moving towards writing a constitution.
Security is a particular headache in Benghazi where violence against foreigners and police assassinations by armed groups have become regular occurrences.
Fears of more attacks
On January 25, Britain urged their nationals to leave Benghazi citing a “specific and imminent” threat to Westerners days after a deadly attack by armed groups on a natural gas complex and taking of hostages in neighbouring Algeria.
In Benghazi, the base of the rebel leadership during the 2011 war, daily life has been disrupted by violence and unrest on top of demands for greater autonomy or investment in a region separated from Tripoli 1,000km away to the west.
This has led to calls in the region – where most of Libya’s oil wealth lies – for a return to a federal political structure,
that is, more regional autonomy, which Libya had before Gaddafi seized power in a coup in 1969.
Federalist groups say they have come under harsh criticism from the central government and even religious leaders, accusing them of calling for a separation of the east from the west of Libya, something they deny they want to do.
“We have been demonised in the state media as traitors and if anything goes wrong on February 15 we will be blamed for it, so it is better if we stay home,” Ragas said.