Helicopter shot down on the eve of Libya's first post-Qaddafi election

A Libyan man walks by a wall plastered with National Assembly election campaign posters on July 5, 2012 in Tripoli, two days ahead of elections for a General National Congress - the first national poll after 42 years of dictatorship under deposed leader Muammar Qaddafi. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Updated: 2:49 p.m. ET

(AP) TRIPOLI, Libya - A spokesman for Libya's National Transitional Council says gunmen have shot down a helicopter carrying voting materials, killing one election commission worker.

The attack near the eastern city of Benghazi comes on the eve Libya's first national election since the toppling and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi last year.

NTC spokesman Saleh Darhoub says the helicopter came under attack while flying over Benina airport on Benghazi's outskirts. He described the assailants as "enemies of the revolution" and said the attack won't stop the country from holding elections.

The news comes in as calls for a boycott and other unrest abound on the eve of Libya's first vote since the overthrow of the country's longtime dictator, Qaddafi. Fear of election violence is on the horizon, even as campaigning came to an end Friday for a contest seen as a milestone on the country's rocky path toward democracy.

The helicopter attack occurred a day after former rebel fighters from eastern Libya shut down three oil refineries to pressure the ruling council to cancel elections, citing an unfair distribution of seats among Libya's regions.

The Saturday election of a 200-member transitional parliament caps a messy nine-month transition after a ruinous 2011 civil war that ended in October with the death of Qaddafi, whose four-decade rule left the country deeply divided along regional, tribal and ideological lines.

The parliament will elect a new transitional government to replace the one appointed by the National Transitional Council that led the rebel side during the eight-month war and held power in its aftermath.

Many in Libya's oil-rich east feel slighted by the NTC-issued election laws, purportedly based on population, that allocate their region less than a third of the parliamentary seats, with the rest going to the western region that includes Tripoli and the sparsely-settled desert south.

In what it called an attempt to defuse east-west tensions, the NTC decreed on Thursday that the new parliament will not be responsible for naming the panel that will draft a new constitution. Instead, the drafters will be directly elected by the public in a separate vote at a later date.

But this has not satisfied some in the east, who press for a boycott.

"We don't want Tripoli to rule all of Libya," said Fadallah Haroun, a former rebel commander in the east's regional capital Benghazi.

A man holds up a burnt ballot paper as firemen extinguish a fire at a warehouse used to store materials for the upcoming General National Congress elections, in Ajdabiya, Libya, July 5, 2012.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this week, ex-rebel fighters and other angry protesters in Benghazi and in the nearby town of Ajdabiya attacked elections offices, setting fire to ballot papers and other voting materials.

Haroun said boycott supporters would take to the streets on election day to "prevent people from voting, because this is a vote that serves those who stole the revolution from us." He said they would not take up arms but when asked how they would stop voters, he said, "We will see tomorrow."

Many in the west are equally dissatisfied with the decree, saying it will undercut the authority of the new parliament.

"The National Transitional Council acts like a rooster with its head cut off," said Yassar al-Bashti, a candidate with the liberal Free Libyans Party. "They want to weaken the new parliament after their failures over the past months."

After 40 years of Qaddafi, Libya holds elections
Libya's ruling council fires Cabinet

The vote also will be a test of the strength of Islamist parties, which have gained influence in Libya and other nations following the ouster of authoritarian regimes run by strongmen like Qaddafi and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Groups vying for power range from the politically savvy Muslim Brotherhood to the ultraconservative Salafis and former jihadists.

Comments