Rival protests for and against Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council on Tuesday packed squares in the eastern city of Benghazi, epicentre of the uprising which ousted Moamer Kadhafi.
Chants of “Down with the new regime!” from around 5,000 disgruntled anti-NTC protesters were met in equal voice and strength with slogans such as “The people want Mustafa Abdel Jalil!” from supporters of the NTC and its chief.
Abdel Jalil has been singled out since Monday by protesters in the city over his recent remarks that the North African country’s new rulers were ready to forgive pro-Kadhafi fighters.
These protesters say there is a lack of transparency about the NTC’s activities.
Libya’s new rulers have been under fire for the first time after the ouster of Kadhafi in a brutal revolution which erupted in Benghazi in February and spread across the country before ending with his killing.
“It is not that we are attacking Mustafa Jalil personally, but he is surrounded by corrupt NTC members. He is unable to control things,” said one protester, Osama Obeidi, adding that demonstrators had a list of demands.
Their main demand, according to the list, was that top priority be given to former rebels and those wounded in the revolution.
It also said that NTC members must not participate in the election of a national congress.
An AFP correspondent at Shajara Square — where the first anti-Kadhafi rally was held on February 15 — said several protesters spent the night there after Monday’s demonstration.
Another anti-NTC demonstration was held on Tuesday outside the ruling body’s office in Benghazi.
But not everybody in Benghazi was against the NTC.
About 5,000 also filled the landmark Tahrir (Liberation) Square to demonstrate their backing for the NTC and Abdel Jalil.
Crowds chanted “The people want Mustafa Abdel Jalil!” and “Libya, Libya!” in Tahrir Square where several demonstrations were held against Kadhafi in the initial days of the revolution.
“This man must be thanked and not cursed. He fought Kadhafi in public by resigning from the former regime,” said supporter Hamza al-Abdelli.
“Of course there are problems within the NTC, but we can’t be disgraceful towards Mustafa Jalil.”
But angry anti-NTC supporters were in no mood to listen.
When asked about the strong show of support by NTC backers at Tahrir Square, protester Lamar Buseir told AFP that it “reminded her of times under Kadhafi’s rule when they used to bring people from other cities” for demonstrations.
The NTC late on Monday announced that Benghazi would be the country’s future economic capital.
“Benghazi will be the economic capital of Libya,” NTC member Abdelrazzak al-Aradi said, adding that ministries related to the economy would be located there.
Asked by AFP if the decision was taken after the protests against the NTC and Abdel Jalil, he said: “Yes. Since the revolution the people of Benghazi feel they are marginialised and forgotten.”
On Monday, Abdel Jalil himself called on people to be patient.
“I want to reassure Libyans that a lot will be done. Be patient,” he said, promising more transparency.
“The NTC will start its own website on which the list of its members and the activities of the NTC will be made public.”
Calling for “restraint and preservation of public property,” Abdel Jalil said the NTC was investing in priorities including integrating former rebels into society.
Abdel Jalil also said a budget would be allocated to each city and regional council, depending on its population and the extent of damage caused in the eight-month conflict.
Protesters furious over Abdel Jalil’s remarks on Saturday that the new Libyan rulers can “forgive and tolerate” Kadhafi fighters have dismissed the assurances.
“We are fed up of promises. Kadhafi did the same thing for 42 years. We want action,” said Majdi al-Tajuri at Shajara Square.
Libya’s new rulers have faced flak for other issues over the past few weeks, including from minorities such as the Berber community for not representing them in the new interim cabinet and from women’s groups for marginalising them also.
The New-York based Human Rights Watch has also criticised the NTC over its lack of transparency.