Popular anger befalls NTC offices in Libya’s Benghazi
BENGHAZI (Libya) - Angry protesters threw home-made grenades and stormed Libya's ruling National Transitional Council offices in the city of Benghazi, setting its front ablaze on Saturday, witnesses said.
The attack in the eastern city that was the cradle of last year's uprising against Moamer Gathafi came as up to 2,000 protesters, including injured former rebels, demonstrated outside the NTC office, witnesses and a correspondent on the scene reported.
The violence erupted a day before the electoral law and the composition of the election commission is due to be announced.
At least three blasts were heard by the reporter who said he did not see any apparent damage to the office or any casualties.
"The demonstrators attacked the building and turned NTC offices upside down," an NTC member said on condition of anonymity.
Witnesses said protesters, armed with stones and iron bars, stormed and ransacked the offices as they occupied them.
They said a brigade of former rebels secured a passage to allow NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil and other council members to leave the building.
But protesters threw plastic bottles at Abdel Jalil when he tried to calm them down, the witnesses added.
"They set fire to the front (of the office), broke windows and damaged one of the armoured cars that was there," said Fathi Baja, NTC member and the council's political affairs chief.
He said he and Abdel Jalil got out of the offices separately, adding that he was unaware of who was behind the attack on the office.
"We do not know. Some were very young, like fifteen years, some older. There were many. Some called for the resignation of the entire NTC except mine, Mustafa Abdel Jalil and another member," Baja said by phone from Benghazi.
Witnesses said the grenade blasts occurred when wounded former rebels who helped topple Gathafi were protesting at being "marginalised" in the new Libya, demanding more transparency in the NTC and opposing what they said were opportunists from joining the ruling body.
Home-made bombs were used regularly by the former rebels during last year's conflict against Gathafi, especially to attack checkpoints of the former leader's forces.
Protesters have held regular demonstrations in Benghazi for several weeks, accusing the NTC of lacking transparency and recruiting members who were once seen as loyalists of the former regime.
The grenade blasts come just two days after NTC deputy head Abdel Hafiz Ghoga was manhandled by university students in Benghazi.
Ghoga, who also serves as official spokesman for the interim government, had to be escorted away after being mobbed by angry students at the University of Ghar Yunis in Libya's second largest city.
He escaped unharmed but was forced to endure a tirade of abuse from the crowd, who accused him of opportunism because of his belated defection from the Gathafi regime.
The NTC called the incident an attack on the Libyan people and the revolution.
It said that "every attack or aggression against the National Transitional Council represents an attack on the sovereignty of the Libyan people and its glorious revolution."
A statement said Ghoga represents the "highest legitimate authority" until the election of a constitutional assembly in June.