Protesters storm parliament building in eastern Libya

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BENGHAZI, Libya – Protesters stormed into the building that houses Libya’s eastern-based parliament in Tobruk on Friday, setting parts of it on fire amid protests during months of failed efforts to put the country divided on the road to elections.

A witness, Taher Amaizig, said thousands of people joined a march to the parliament building calling for the dissolution of the current political powers and the holding of elections. He said as security guards tried to keep people out, one protester was shot in the legs and other protesters then forced their way inside.

Videos circulating on social media showed protesters marching past burning stacks. Friday is the first day of the weekend in Libya, which means the building was likely empty when it was stormed. It was unclear what protesters intended to target the building

Other demonstrations calling for elections took place 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 country’s east and the other in the west – failed in UN-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 divided between competing administrations, falling back despite a year of attempts at unity.

Oil-rich Libya has been wracked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, leading to a rise in rival governments. The eastern-based administration is backed by military commander Khalifa Hifter, and a UN-backed administration is based in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.

Tobruk, seat of the Libyan House of Representatives, has long been allied with Hifter. More recently, parliament elected Fathy Basghagha as prime minister in a government that rivals the Tripoli-based administration. Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister, now heads a separate administration outside the city of Sirte.

Libya’s plan for the December 24 elections fell through after the Tripoli-based interim administration, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, failed to vote. This failure was a blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya.

Deteriorating economic conditions were also a factor in Friday’s protests. In Tripoli, hundreds of people turned out earlier in the day to oppose the political crisis but also to protest electricity shortages and rising fuel and bread prices.

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