Libyans put aside woes to celebrate uneasy anniversary

BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI Mon Feb 18, 2013 8:52am IST

Fireworks explode in the sky during celebrations commemorating the second anniversary of the country's February 17 revolution, at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Fireworks explode in the sky during celebrations commemorating the second anniversary of the country's February 17 revolution, at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli February 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ismail Zitouny

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BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Thousands took to the streets on Sunday to celebrate two years since the start of Libya's revolution and a national political leader promised to end the sense of neglect experienced by Benghazi, the country's second city.

One thousand km (620 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, Benghazi was the cradle of the revolt that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but many citizens feel that they are yet to see the fruits of their military struggle.

There are calls in the eastern 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.

Many are unhappy that the government is yet to disarm militias or write a new constitution.

National Congress leader Mohammed Magarief visited Benghazi on Sunday and sought to tackle simmering discontent in the city.

"We admit that we have not fulfilled our duties completely. Maybe the excuse is a lack of experience, but we have started from scratch and we will learn from the lessons we learned in the past months," Magarief told a crowd of about 200 people.

"We promise to end the neglect Benghazi feels and will push the government to spread Libya's wealth equally across the country."

Magarief, accompanied by several cabinet ministers, also promised to hand out money to Libyan families as "a valuable gift to celebrate the revolution" but did not say how much.

TIGHT SECURITY

Additional security measures have been taken in the run-up to the anniversary - Libya's borders with Tunisia and Egypt were closed and some international flights suspended amid fears of a new outbreak of violence.

All three North African countries have toppled autocrats since the start of 2011 and all three have political violence, inexperienced leadership and weak economies.

in Libya, security is a particular headache in Benghazi, where violence against foreigners and police assassinations have become common. While many celebrated, others watched soberly.

"I'm not here to celebrate; a revolution should be celebrated once its goals are fulfilled. In Benghazi we keep bringing up demands and nothing happens," Mohammed al-Shokri, 26, said.

There was no official programme for the anniversary, but fireworks and patriotic music have filled the air since Friday.

In Tripoli, families poured out onto the streets in their thousands. In some neighbourhoods, camels were slaughtered and displayed on the street for the occasion and elderly men waved flags at passing cars as they sipped tea. Youths banged drums on top of cars while men in traditional clothing rode on horses.

Men parachuted out of planes above the capital's seafront where ships also blew foghorns.

"You cannot imagine how I feel today, the joy is immense," Arbiya, a 24-year old engineering student said while in Martyrs Square, tears in her eyes as she carried a picture of her brother who died fighting Gaddafi forces in the 2011 conflict.

"Yes, there are still problems but we should all work together to make Libya a better country."

(Additional reporting by Ghaith Shennib in Benghazi and Ali Shuaib in Tripoli; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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