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Obama applauds 'milestone' Libya vote as car bomb rocks Constitutional Assembly

Constitutional Assembly in Beida hit as new Parliament HQ opens in Benghazi
Car bomb causes serious damage to Constitutional Assembly in Beida (AA)

US President Barack Obama has congratulated Libya on its “milestone” election and vowed to continue to supporting the country’s transition to democracy.

"I congratulate the Libyan people on the conclusion of the elections for a new Council of Representatives, a milestone in their courageous efforts to transition from four decades of dictatorship toward a full democracy," Obama said in a statement on Thursday while stressing that the vote was "just one step" in Libya's democratic shift.

Violence marred Wednesday’s election and continued to rage today, with a car bomb going off outside the old parliamentary building in Beida in eastern Libya that now houses the Constitutional Assembly.

The building was severely damaged and several injures have been reported but no one was killed in the blast. The majority of Constitutional Assembly members were in Tripoli at the time of the blast and many have since issued statements vowing to continue their work.

The incident follows on from election day violence across the country yesterday.

In the west, gunmen seizing ballot boxes from five polling stations in al-Jemil, some 15km from Zuwara, forcing voting in the town to be abandoned.

In the east, elections were not held in the eastern city of Derna - a militant stronghold - or in swathes of the southern Kufra region which borders Egypt. Polling for the 16 of the 200 seats in parliament that those areas provide will be reorganised a later date, the electoral commission said.

In the eastern capital Benghazi, a prominent female human rights activist, Salwa Bugaighis, was gunned down while seven Libyan soldier were killed and 53 wounded near a polling station. Security services have since blamed the Islamist-inspired Rafallah Sahati militia, for the attack.

Benghazi Parliament HQ

Despite the turbulence in the city, Libyan officials on Thursday inaugurated a new Benghazi-based parliamentary headquarters which is designed to be the permanent seat of the new House of Representatives.

The new headquarters was inaugurated in a celebration attended by dignitaries, including former deputy parliament speaker Ezz Eddin al-Awami and Justice Minister Salah Mergani.

The relocation of the body from the capital Tripoli to the eastern capital Benghazi was originally intended to reassure eastern Libya of its continued importance. However, serious doubts remained whether violence would prevent the new body from meeting in the city.

Benghazi was the cradle of the 2011 revolution to overthrow former dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi but since his oust has become a hotbed for warring, largely Islamist-inspired, militias. In May, a rogue ex-general Khalifa Haftar launched a military offensive against the groups. More than a hundred have been killed in the fighting and scores more injured.

Election results are still being tallied and it is not known when the new parliament will assemble, although analysts told the Middle East Eye that the handover could take place in as little as two three weeks if there are no complications.

Aside from security, the vote was hampered by low turnout with only 630,000 of the 1.5 million registered voters turning out to cast their ballot, according to preliminary estimates by the electoral commission.

The number of registered voters itself is a far cry from the more than 2.7 million who signed up two years ago for Libya's first ever free election. Almost 3.5 million Libyans are eligible to vote.

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