Libyans took to the streets on Friday to celebrate the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi, with fireworks and slogans, even as their new leader vowed to act firmly against further instability.
The former rebels who, backed by NATO, toppled Qaddafi last year set up fresh check-points in the capital Tripoli, Benghazi, the eastern birthplace of the uprising, the western port city of Misrata and other towns.
Flag-waving crowds converging on Martyrs Square in the capital Tripoli or Freedom Square in Benghazi, cradle of the revolt, had to negotiate extra checkpoints set up authorities to stop Gaddafi loyalists from disrupting festivities.
Spontaneous celebrations began on Thursday night when men, women and children emerged on the streets of Tripoli, Benghazi and other towns waving flags and chanting.
“Despite the problems that remain in the country, this is an amazing day and we want to celebrate,” a 22-year-old engineering student called Sarah said in Tripoli. “Just look at what was achieved in this past year.”
Life for many people has improved since the eight-month NATO-backed struggle against Gaddafi and its chaotic aftermath, but security and political woes abound ahead of the June poll.
As it tries to build a democratic state, the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) is struggling to impose its authority on a country awash with weapons and to form a functioning national police force and army.
Heavily-armed militias have stepped into the vacuum, carving out local fiefdoms. Their fighters say they are loyal to the NTC but answer only to their own commanders. They often clash because of disputes over who controls which neighborhoods.
Ezzieddin Agiel, who teaches engineering at Tripoli University, said insecurity could undermine the June election.
“The biggest achievement of the revolution was to end the Gaddafi regime and put a stop to his family’s corruption. The elections reflect the Libyan quest to build the state and constitution,” he added.
“The weakness of the political institutions may lead to serious problems for Libya, which may be difficult to control.”
The challenges facing Libya’s new rulers are manifold, including rebuilding an ageing and damaged infrastructure, fostering vibrant state institutions, tackling a corrupt economy and boosting what are weak health, judicial and educational systems.
But the most immediate headache is how to control the tens of thousands of ex-rebels who have now turned into powerful militias, whose jealously guarded commitment to their honour and power occasionally erupts into deadly clashes.
“By now they (militias) have developed vested interests they will be loath to relinquish,” said World Bank advisor Hafed al-Ghwell in a recent report.
These rival militias have emerged as the biggest security threat for Libya, regularly clashing with each other and causing fatalities.
Global human rights organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders have lashed out at them, accusing them of torturing their prisoners, most of whom are former pro-Qaddafi fighters.
“Armed militias operating across Libya commit widespread human rights abuses with impunity, fuelling insecurity and hindering the rebuilding of state institutions,” Amnesty warned in a new report Thursday.
“It is imperative that the Libyan authorities firmly demonstrate their commitment to turning the page on decades of systematic violations by reining in the militias, investigating all past and present abuses and prosecuting those responsible,” said Donatella Rovera, senior adviser at Amnesty.
Prime Minister Kib has acknowledged that integrating these militias into security services is a “complex” issue. But his government on Thursday said that about 5,000 of them had been integrated into the security services.
Ghwell said there are concerns about the ruling NTC itself.
“The NTC has had to struggle with internal divisions, a credibility deficit and questions surrounding its effectiveness,” he said.