BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Demonstrators broke into the building that houses the eastern Libya-based parliament in Tobruk on Friday, setting fire to parts of it amid protests over months of failed efforts to set the divided country on a path toward elections.
One witness, Taher Amaizig, said thousands joined a march to the parliament building calling for the current political powers to be dissolved and elections to be held. He said that as security guards tried to prevent people from entering, a protester was shot in the legs and other demonstrators then forced their way inside.
Videos circulated on social media showed protesters filing past burning piles. Friday is the first day of the weekend in Libya, meaning the building was likely empty when it was stormed. It was unclear what protesters intended by targeting the building
Other protests demanding elections were staged earlier in the day in several cities around Libya.
The unrest comes a day after representatives of Libya’s rival powers — one based in the east of the country and the other in the west — failed at U.N.-mediated talks in Geneva to reach agreement on a constitutional framework for national elections.
After more than a decade of war, the country is once again split between competing administrations, sliding backwards despite a year of tentative steps towards unity.
Oil-rich Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, leading to a rise in rival governments. The administration based in the east is backed by military commander Khalifa Hifter, and a U.N.-supported administration is based in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
Tobruk, the seat of Libya’s House of Representatives, has long been allied with Hifter. More recently the parliament there elected Fathy Basghagha as prime minister to a government that rivals the Tripoli-based administration. Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister, is now operating a separate administration out of the city of Sirte.
Libya’s plan for elections last Dec. 24 fell through after the interim administration based in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, failed to go ahead with the vote. The failure was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya.
The deteriorating economic situation was also a factor in Friday’s protests. In Tripoli, hundreds came out earlier in the day in opposition to the political crisis but also to rail against electricity shortages and rising prices for fuel and bread.