Benghazi to be 'economic capital'

2011-12-13 12:26

Benghazi - Libya's new rulers came under fire from disgruntled protesters for the first time on Monday as hundreds rallied in Benghazi, cradle of the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and brought them to power.

Faced with angry calls from crowds demanding that National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil quit, the ruling body decided to make the eastern city the future "economic capital" of the North African country.

In Benghazi's Shajara Square, men and women chanted slogans against Abdel Jalil and the NTC, which have run Libya since Gaddafi's ouster, complaining of a lack of transparency and willingness to forgive the ex-dictator's fighters.

The square, whose name means "Tree" in Arabic, was the place where the first anti-Gaddafi rally was held on February 15, jump-starting the revolution that eventually overthrew the 42-year old regime.

"The NTC (National Transitional Council) must quit. Jalil must go out! The people want another revolution!" chanted the crowds as they waved Libya's new flag.

Protesters 'furious'

"Abdel Jalil has lot of questions to answer. The regime has not changed. It is the same which oppresses and marginalises cities," lawyer Tahini al-Sharif told AFP.

She said the protesters were also furious over Abdel Jalil's remarks that the Council was ready to forgive Gaddafi's fighters.

"Abel Jalil is asking us to forgive Gaddafi fighters. Would he say the same thing if his son was killed or wounded in the revolution?" asked Sharif.

On Saturday, the NTC held the first post-Gaddafi conference on national reconciliation in which Abdel Jalil said the new rulers were ready to forgive the slain dictator's former loyalist fighters.

"Despite what the army of the oppressor did to our cities and our villages, our brothers who fought against the rebels as the army of Gaddafi, we are ready to forgive them," Abdel Jalil said.

"We are able to forgive and tolerate," he added.

'Be patient'

But in response to Monday's protests, Abdel Jalil called on Libyans to be patient.

"I want to reassure Libyans that a lot will be done. Be patient," he said, promising more transparency.

"The NTC will start its own website on which the list of its members and the activities of the NTC will be made public."

Calling for "restraint and preservation of public property", Abdel Jalil said the NTC was investing in priorities including the integration of former rebels in society.

Abdel Jalil also said a budget would be allocated to each city and regional council, depending on its population and the extent of damage caused in the eight-month conflict.

'Time needed'

The NTC also sought to pacify the Benghazi protesters, declaring the city would be Libya's future economic capital while adding it "needed time to build a state for which many people sacrificed their lives".

"Benghazi will be the economic capital of Libya," NTC member Abdelrazzak al-Aradi told a news conference in Tripoli, adding ministries related to the economy would be located in the former rebel capital.

Asked by AFP if the decision was taken after protests on Monday against the NTC and Abdel Jalil, he said: "Yes. Since the revolution the people of Benghazi feel they are marginalised and forgotten."

The NTC statement said "decentralisation of government work" would be the strategy in new Libya.

It also said the new interim government would "respond positively to Tripoli's legitimate demand of disarming the militias".

Tripoli's residents have been protesting against the presence of former rebels from outside the city who still parade their arms in the capital.

But angry Benghazi protesters were in no mood to listen and carried on with a sit-in late on Monday with nearly 400 demonstrators camping at the square, threatening to stay put until their demands were met.

'Legitimate' demands

"Jalil's statement did not affect or touch anyone. Who is he to tell us this? He is not the president," said Bassem Fakhri, a political science lecturer at the University of Benghazi.

"Benghazi is not expecting only to be the economic capital. We want transparency, representation for women, decentralisation, representation for youths and the full list of NTC members."

NTC member Fathi Baja who is in charge of political affairs for the Council, backed protesters, saying their demands were "legitimate".

"Their demands reflect the beat on the streets of Benghazi and other eastern cities" of Libya, he said as protesters blocked two key streets connecting to the square.