Hajj pilgrims block Benghazi runway

Benghazi - About 120 hajj pilgrims from Benghazi blocked the city airport's runway late on Wednesday after a Saudi Arabian plane due to take them for the annual Muslim pilgrimage failed to arrive.

The angry men and women, after waiting for nearly 18 hours for the Saudi plane to arrive, marched to the runaway and stopped a Tripoli-bound domestic flight from taking off from Benghazi's Benina airport, an AFP correspondent reported from the runway.

All the pilgrims were relatives of fighters killed in battles against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces since the uprising against him erupted in Benghazi, in February and ended with his death on October 20.

"We have been waiting since 05:00 for the plane to arrive but there is no news. Nobody is telling us what is happening," Hafed Al-Jilali, co-ordinator for the hajj pilgrims in Benghazi told AFP.

Jilali and other pilgrims, shouting "Allahu Akbar [God is greatest]", sat in front of the plane headed for Tripoli and stopped it from taking off.

Jilali said the pilgrims had also forced two military aircraft to land at another small base on Saturday.

"We are members from families of those killed in the revolution and this is the treatment we are getting," said Adel Ali, a businessman from Benghazi who was on his first hajj trip along with his mother.

"This is not what we expect after we gave our blood for the revolution," he added.

"The government must ensure that pilgrims are properly treated. Every pilgrim here has lost somebody or the other in the revolution."

Some of the pilgrims intervened to ensure the AFP correspondent and photographer were allowed into the airport after they were initially stopped by security staff from approaching the runway.

"Libya is free and the blood of our martyrs will not go waste. This government is bad and our plight must be reported," shouted Walid al-Leyas, whose mother was one of the pilgrims headed to hajj.

"Every day for the past four days I am bringing my mother to the airport and then taking her back. Today the airport officials said the plane was coming, but it has still not arrived," a furious Leyas said.

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