Pro-autonomy leaders in east Libya urge calm on revolt anniversary

Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:02am EST
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By Ghaith Shennib

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Pro-autonomy leaders in eastern Libya urged followers to cancel planned rallies against central authorities on Friday for fear they could ignite violence as the country marks two years since the start of its revolution.

Various opposition and interest groups in Benghazi, fount of the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, have prepared mass demonstrations later in the day to demand better security and investment for Libya's second biggest city.

"Everyone is carrying weapons in Benghazi and there is still general chaos and confusion," activist Zeid el-Ragas said. "As activists it's our responsibility to minimize harm in our city, so we will stay home on February 15."

While Sunday will be the actual two-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Gaddafi revolt, celebrations were to begin later on Friday in remembrance of the arrest of a human rights lawyer in Benghazi that kindled unrest.

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.

Security is a particular headache in Benghazi where violence against foreigners and police assassinations by inchoate Islamist militant groups have become regular occurrences.

On January 25, Britain urged their 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 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 separated from Tripoli 1,000 km (620 miles) away to the west.   Continued...

People hold Libyan national flags as preparations take place in the city for the upcoming celebrations to commemorate the second anniversary of the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi, in Benghazi February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori