Libya's liberals claim they lead in historic election

Officials from two other parties back up the claim, but the election commission refused to comment as Saturday's votes are still being counted.

Manu Brabo/AP
Polling station officials count ballots at a polling station in Tripoli, Libya, Saturday. Jubilant Libyans chose a new parliament Saturday in their first nationwide vote in decades, but violence and protests in the restive east underscored the challenges ahead as the oil-rich North African nation struggles to restore stability after the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

A liberal alliance led by a former Libyan rebel prime minister said Sunday the party's unofficial preliminary results showed it was in the lead in the country's first parliamentary election since the ouster of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Faisal Krekshi, secretary general of the Alliance of National Forces led by Mahmoud Jibril, said he was basing his results on reports by party representatives at ballot counting centers across the vast desert nation. He gave no details and the head of the election commission refused to confirm Krekshi's announcement.

"We are all waiting and we have nothing to suggest that one party is ahead of others," election commission chief Nouri al-Abar told reporters. He also refused to set a date for announcing the full official results.

Libyans voted Saturday for the 200-seat legislature. Eighty seats are set aside for party lists and the remaining 120 are for individual independent candidates.

Officials from two other parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction Party, said Mr. Jibril's alliance was the biggest winner in the race for the 80 party seats. They also said they were basing their statements on party representatives at polling centers. They did not provide a breakdown.

Their claims could not be verified.

The vote capped a chaotic transition that has exposed major fault rifts in the country, ranging from the east-west divide to efforts by Islamists to assert power. It was a key milestone after a bitter civil war that ended Mr. Qaddafi's four-decade rule, and was the first time Libyans have voted for a parliament since 1964, five years before Qaddafi's military coup that toppled the monarchy.

But the desert nation of 6 million people has fallen into turmoil since Qaddafi was killed by rebel forces in his home city of Sirte in late October. Armed militias operate independently, refusing to be brought under the umbrella of a national army, and deepening regional and tribal divisions often devolve into bouts of violence.

Many people in eastern Libya resent what they perceive as a power grab by their rivals in the west. Some easterners boycotted Saturday's election in protest, and there was a spate of attacks on polling centers in the east that, in some cases, halted voting in some areas.

Al-Abar, the election commission chief, said preliminary figures showed 1.7 million of nearly 2.9 million eligible voters, or about 63 percent, cast their ballots Saturday. He also said that voters who were not able to cast their ballots for security reason were allowed to vote on Sunday.

The vote was characterized by scenes of joy and a sense of triumph by Libyans emerging from more than four decades of repressive one-man rule under Qaddafi.

They stayed out celebrating on the streets well after polls closed at 8 p.m. Fireworks lit the Tripoli sky, motorists honked their horns and stores stayed open well past midnight.

There were also shouts of "Libya is free" by rebel fighters deployed throughout the capital in anticipation of any violence. They flashed fingers stained by the purple ink to show they had voted.

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