Mixed mood in Libya on second anniversary of revolution
BENGHAZI (Libya) - Thousands of people gathered in Libya's two main cities Tripoli and Benghazi on Friday to celebrate two years since the start of the revolution that ousted long-time leader Moamer Gathafi.
In central Tripoli, hundreds of people assembled in Martyrs' Square, waving flags and balloons and chanting slogans praising the martyrs of the Libyan revolution as cars drove through the capital sounding their horns.
In Benghazi, the eastern city where the revolt began, thousands of people marched along the same route of a procession organised on February 15, 2011, the catalyst that sparked the outbreak of uprising two days later.
The Benghazi protesters also praised the martyrs, as well as those who disappeared and those wounded in the conflict that lasted for more than eight months until Gathafi's death on October 20, 2011.
But the demonstrators also criticised the new authorities, demanding in particular a greater decentralisation of power.
The government has already taken a series of measures to contain any attempt by supporters of the former regime to "sow chaos" amid anger from protesters who accuse the new rulers of failing to push for reform.
Some critics of the government even called for a "new revolution" as they denounced the power of ex-militias which helped to end more than four decades of Gathafi rule.
The mood was mixed between those happily celebrating, and others standing soberly watching.
Many Libyans, particularly those in the east, have been urging citizens to take to the streets to voice their discontent over the Tripoli government's inability to provide security by disarming militias or moving towards writing a constitution.
In Benghazi, the base of the rebel leadership during the 2011 war, daily life has been disrupted by violence and unrest on top of demands for greater autonomy or investment in a region 1,000 km (620 miles) east of Tripoli.
There are calls in the region - where most of Libya's oil wealth lies - for a return to a federal political structure and more regional autonomy, which Libya had before Gaddafi seized power in a coup in 1969.
Federalist groups resent criticism from the central government and religious leaders accusing them of calling for a separation of the east from the west of Libya, something they deny they want.
But while federalists did not turn out as an organized force, many of those celebrating sympathized with them.
The over-arching issue is what status Benghazi will have in the new Libya.
"Benghazi is the spark that started the revolution two years today, and yet we still suffer from a central government and ignorance from the congress," said one man.
"We haven't realized the revolution yet."
Just on the outskirts of the demonstration, and as people poured into the courthouse yard, there were gunshots in the air as groups of armed men confronted each other.
Security is a particular headache in Benghazi, where violence against foreigners and police assassinations by Islamist militant groups have become common.
On January 25, Britain urged its nationals to leave Benghazi, citing a "specific and imminent" threat to Westerners days after a deadly attack by Islamist militants on a natural gas complex and taking of hostages in neighboring Algeria.
In September, civilians stormed militia bases in Benghazi after a militant assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in which the U.S. ambassador was killed. It happened after an anti-militia "Save Benghazi" rally.
Fearing a repeat, militias have been keeping a low profile in the run-up to the anniversary weekend, some of them removing weapons from their bases. More security checkpoints have been set up around town.
As part of the increased security measures over the weekend, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said overland borders with Tunisia and Egypt would be closed.