But Western supporters of the NATO-backed uprising that overthrew Gaddafi dismissed suggestions that the violence showed the election lacked legitimacy. “Just one year ago, Libyans were still fighting against a brutal tyrant,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague, whose government was, alongside France, a main player in the conflict. “Today marks a further milestone towards realising Libyans’ ambitions for a peaceful, stable, prosperous and democratic country,” he said.
A spokesman for the European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton said Libyans had cast their votes and “decided their future in a dignified and orderly manner”. Some voters struggled with procedures for casting their ballot. In one central Tripoli district, two women disappeared into a voting booth together before an election worker hurriedly explained they must vote alone. “Some of these women are crying as they vote. It is such an emotional day,” said one poll official.
Polls started closing at 8 pm but partial results are not due until Sunday and a full preliminary count is not expected until Monday at the earliest. Many easterners are angry that the east has been allotted only 60 seats in the assembly compared with 102 for the west. A day earlier, armed groups had shut off half of Libya’s oil exports to press demands for greater representation in the assembly. At least three major oil-exporting terminals were affected. “The country will be in a state of paralysis because no one in the government is listening to us,” Hamed al-Hassi, a former rebel who now heads the High Military Council of Cyrenaica, the name of the eastern region, told Reuters.
Port agents said the oil depot closures would last 48 hours but the government sent a team on Saturday to negotiate a full reopening of a sector that provides most of Libya’s revenues. Analysts say it is hard to predict the political make-up of the new assembly, but parties and candidates professing an attachment to Islamic values dominate and very few are running on an exclusively secular ticket. The Justice and Construction offshoot of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood is tipped to do well, as is al-Watan, the party of former CIA detainee and Islamist insurgent Abdel Hakim Belhadj.