Middle East

Arson attack destroys ballots in eastern Libya

AJDABIYA, Libya: A fire ravaged a depot containing electoral material in the eastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya, officials said on Thursday, blaming the attack on arsonists.

"All material required for holding the election was stored in this warehouse," Abelqader Habib, an electoral official in Ajdabiya, told AFP.

"We had ballot papers, voter lists, lists of candidates and political parties, some posters, stickers, banners, boxes and other stuff. Everything is burnt," he added.

"We don't know who did this but obviously there are people who don't want elections to be held as scheduled," Habib said.

The incident comes just two days ahead of elections for a General National Congress, in what marks the first national polls after 42 years of dictatorship under slain leader Moamer Kadhafi.

The fire appeared to have been set from inside the cement building, blackening every surface. Melted plastic containers, charred tables and chairs were scattered everywhere, an AFP journalist said.

"The fire happened before sunrise," said another electoral official.

He added that backers of federalism, some of them armed, "had tried to attack the depot yesterday (Wednesday) and residents of the city parried the attack by forming a human shield around the warehouse."

Habib said the losses should not undermine the election because authorities had stored extra material elsewhere.

The head of the electoral commission in Benghazi, Jamal Bugrin, warned earlier "if a solution is not found today (Thursday) to replace the material, voting would have to be delayed in that district."

The district of Ajdabiya has been allocated four seats in the 200-member national assembly due to be elected Saturday.

On July 1, the electoral commission's headquarters in Benghazi were attacked by armed men calling for a reallocation of seats on the national assembly, which will govern during a transitional period.

A federalist movement calling for greater autonomy of the east has threatened to boycott and disrupt the elections if its demands to change the allocation of seats are not met.

The movement would like an equal allocation of seats along regional lines. The interim authorities instead decided to allocate 100 seats to the west, 60 to the east and 40 to the south, citing demographic considerations.

In Tripoli, the ruling National Transitional Council issued a statement condemning the act of arson and warning that it could cause delay the vote in Ajdabiya.





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