BENGHAZI: Libya celebrated Sunday two years since the start of the revolt that toppled Moammar Gadhafi, with security forces on high alert amid fears of fresh violence which has plagued the North African nation.
The anniversary of the uprising that ended with Gadhafi’s killing in October 2011 comes as Libya’s new rulers battle critics calling for a “new revolution” and accusing them of failing to usher in much-needed reforms.
Speaking to hundreds of people in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began, de facto head of state Mohammad Megarief paid homage to the “martyrs of the revolution” and the “true revolutionaries” who helped bring down Gadhafi.
He insisted that Libya would not be allowed to become a “base for terrorism” and vowed to end the marginalization of the east.
Thousands of people gathered Friday in the main cities of Tripoli and Benghazi to celebrate the initial Feb. 15, 2011, protest that ignited the revolt that began two days later.
Authorities took steps to prevent any violence Sunday, when spontaneous celebrations were expected.
Libya’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia have been closed since Thursday, and all international flights were suspended except at the airports of Tripoli and Benghazi, while checkpoints were set up around the two cities.
“We emphasize to our partners our determination that Libya does not become a base for or source of terrorism,” said Megarief, who is president of the national assembly.
There was no official program for Sunday’s anniversary, but celebratory fireworks and revolutionary songs have filled the air across the country since Friday.
Tahrir Square in Benghazi, where Megarief was speaking, was the focus of the celebration, with members of the government attending. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has hailed the Libyan people’s rejection of “injustice and tyranny.”
“The joy that motivated people in towns and villages on Feb. 15 and 16 has allowed Libyans to prove to the world that they are a civilized people who revolted against injustice and tyranny to gain freedom,” Zeidan said.
Opposition groups are demanding that former Gadhafi regime officials be barred from holding public office, and a leaflet circulated in Tripoli calls for a “popular revolt” and civil disobedience to bring down the current regime.
It was unclear who was behind the leaflet, but Libyan officials and several organizations, including Islamist groups, accuse remnants of the former regime of fomenting protests to “sow disorder and instability.”
A number of opposition groups and civil society organizations, including those calling for federalism in eastern Libya, have temporarily suspended their calls to protest, initially planned for Friday, for fear of stoking violence.
“We understand the discontent of the population in certain regions, particularly in Benghazi,” which suffered from neglect under the Gadhafi regime, Megarief said. “We promise that we will push the government to take the necessary measures to put an end to this marginalization and improve the living standards of its residents.”
Authorities threatened force against anyone who tried to derail the festivities.
Last September, Benghazi witnessed an Islamist assault on the U.S. consulate there that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
“Security is one of the challenges the country faces, especially the proliferation of weapons and the escape of thousands of prisoners” during the revolution, political analyst Suleyman Azqim told AFP.
Despite Libya holding its first free elections in July last year, Azqim said the country is not yet politically mature after four decades of dictatorship.
The fear of fresh violence is strong among both Libya’s dwindling foreign community, and some Libyans have rushed to stock up on food and domestic gas.