Hundreds of armed protesters have stormed the election commission in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, witnesses have said.
An Al Jazeera team in Tripoli confirmed on Sunday that an estimated 1,000 people occupied the election commission building to protest the allocation of seats for the eastern district of which Benghazi is the capital.
By late Sunday, the situation was back under control, a member of the public outreach team of the High National Election Committee (HNEC) told Al Jazeera.
Earlier in the evening, a large group of armed young men stormed the HNEC building, chanting pro-federalist slogans, as police attempted to disperse the crowd.
The protesters smashed windows and burned the United Nations office also located in the building.
Men carried computers and ballot boxes from the building and began to crush them while chanting pro-federalist slogans.
Some election materials were burned outside the office complex, witnesses said, but the main storage of the voting material remained unscathed.
Al Jazeera correspondent David Poort, reporting from Benghazi, said there had been several protests across Benghazi on Sunday against the allocation of seats for the eastern province of Cyrenaica, of which Benghazi is the capital, in the soon-to-be installed General National Council.
The National Transitional Council (NTC) has allotted representation in parliament according to demographics, allocating 100 seats for Tripolitania in the west, 60 for Cyrenaica and 40 for Fezzan in the south.
This allegedly unequal distribution has angered many Cyrenaicians, and some candidates in the upcoming July 7 elections have openly voiced their preference for an autonomous region.
«Different protests were held around the city on Sunday and these protests were supposed to come together at the electoral commission, “ Poort said, adding: “The commission received all the necessary election material: printed ballot papers, plastic ballot boxes, ink and voting booths, from Dubai several days ago.”
«They were being kept in a warehouse before being distributed to different polling stations across Cyrenaica.”
The vote will be the first free election since an uprising last year in which Muammar Gaddafi was ousted from office.
Benghazi, where the uprising began in February 2011, has demanded autonomy from the central government in Tripoli.
The move has been resisted by the National Transitional Council, which has governed Libya since Gaddafi was overthrown.