BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Hundreds of angry Libyans on Saturday stormed the transitional government's headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi, carting off computers, chairs, and desks while the country's interim leader was still holed up in the building.
Libyans have grown increasingly frustrated with the pace and direction of reforms in the country more than three months after the end of the civil war that ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Those concerns spurred residents in Benghazi, where the uprising against longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi broke out in February, to begin protests nearly two weeks ago to demand transparency and justice from the country's new leaders.
The melee at the National Transitional Council's headquarters began after protesters broke through the gates using hand grenades and streamed into the grounds of the headquarters. They banged on the building's doors and demanded officials meet with them.
In a bid to calm tensions, NTC chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil tried to address the crowd from a second-floor window, but protesters began throwing bottles at him.
Protesters then torched Abdul-Jalil's armored Land Cruiser and broke into the headquarters itself, smashing windows to get inside and cart off furniture and electronics.
A security official in the building said a team of some 50 guards dressed as civilians were trying to calm the protesters.
The official, who served as a revolutionary commander during the civil war, said Abdul-Jalil was still in the building and was refusing to leave. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Some of the protesters pitched tents weeks ago outside the NTC's headquarters to protest a set of election laws they say were drafted by the interim leaders without consulting the public.
"The election laws have not been approved by thousands of Libyans and do not honor those who died for our freedom," said Tamer al-Jahani, a lawyer taking part in the protest. "We don't want to replace one tyrant with another."
The NTC is expected to soon pass the packet of laws, which specify how elections for a transitional parliament will be held. The council only took into account public suggestions through an online survey.
The NTC's handling of the draft laws has sparked criticism that the council is not living up to its democratic ideals.
Last week, NTC official Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga was assaulted in Benghazi by protesters angry at what they said is the NTC's lack of transparency.
Some demonstrators were demanding more rights for fighters wounded during the civil war.
Protester Ahmed Boras accused the NTC of sidelining anti-Gadhafi fighters.
"It seems to us that these people are no different than Gadhafi and they only speak the language of force," he said.