First Libya polls in 40 years: Misrata votes to elect local council

Scene banned under Gathafi

MISRATA (Libya) - Residents of the battle-scarred town of Misrata voted on Monday to elect a local council, in Libya's first polls in more than 40 years, four months after the killing of Moamer Gathafi.
"This is an historic event. We hope these elections will be an example" for the rest of Libya, the president of the port city's electoral commission, Mohammed Balrouin, said.
He said it was "a dress rehearsal for the upcoming vote" to be held nationwide in June to elect a constituent assembly.
Misrata residents were electing 28 council members from a field of 242 candidates. Some 101,486 people were registered to cast their ballots, from 156,000 eligible voters, in a city with a population of 281,000, said Balrouin.
By midday, the election official put the turnout at between 30 and 60 percent. "Our goal was to have a turnout of more than 30 percent. I believe we're almost there," he said.
Monday was declared a public holiday in Misrata, both for the election and to commemorate the date, exactly a year ago, when the city rose up against the regime of Gathafi who banned elections as an "invention of the West."
The "city of martyrs" in Libya's revolution was besieged for several months by Gathafi's forces and suffered some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict.
"Today we are tasting freedom and democracy. Thank God, the blood of the martyrs was not spilt in vain," said Fama al-Shawesh, a 19-year-old student, waving blue ink on a finger to show she had voted.
At a polling station in the city centre, voters entered a private cubicle to select their candidate. After casting their ballot, they were made to dip a finger in indelible blue ink, in a bid to prevent people from voting twice.
The count was to begin after the end of voting at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), with results to be announced on Tuesday.