Libya's NTC chief warns of 'bottomless pit'

Benghazi protests prompt resignation of party's deputy leader.

BENGHAZI, LIBYA // The deputy head of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said yesterday he was resigning after a series of protests against the new government which the country's leader warned could drag Libya into a "bottomless pit".

The protests have pitched the NTC into its deepest crisis since Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and raise new questions about the council's ability to govern.

Late on Saturday, protesters demanding the government's resignation forced their way into the NTC's local headquarters in Benghazi while the NTC chief was inside. It was the most serious show of anger at the authorities since Qaddafi's removal.

The NTC has the support of Western powers, but it is unelected, has been slow to restore basic public services, and some Libyans say too many of its members are tarnished by ties to Qaddafi.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the NTC and one of the council's highest-profile members, was the target of some of the protesters' criticism. Last week, students jostled him when he visited a university in Benghazi and he had to be pulled to safety.

"My resignation is for the benefit of the nation and is required at this stage," Mr Ghoga told Al Jazeera.

He said the national consensus that helped the country rise up and end Qaddafi's rule had not lasted into peacetime, giving way to what he called an atmosphere of hatred.

"I do not want this atmosphere to continue and negatively affect the National Transitional Council and its performance," said Mr Ghoga, who also acted as the NTC's spokesman.

Protesters say the NTC has failed to live up to the aspirations of the revolt against Qaddafi. "We hoped for security, peace and transparency. We have seen the opposite," said Miftah Al Rabia, 28, who was standing outside the NTC's Benghazi headquarters yesterday with a group of protesters.

The NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil, speaking at a news conference in Benghazi just over an hour before Mr Ghoga announced he was resigning, appealed to the protesters to be more patient.

"We are going through a political movement that can take the country to a bottomless pit," he said. "There is something behind these protests that is not for the good of the country.

"The people have not given the government enough time and the government does not have enough money. Maybe there are delays, but the government has only been working for two months. Give them a chance, at least two months."

He said he had accepted the resignation of Benghazi's mayor, Saleh El Ghazal, following the protests, and promised elections to choose the mayor's successor.

In a glimpse of the lack of coordination which Western diplomats say pervades the workings of the NTC, Mr Abdel Jalil was asked if Mr Ghoga would be stepping down and said he would not. Sources in the NTC said Mr Ghoga has not submitted a letter of resignation. They said he was angry at being manhandled at the university and that a delegation had gone to his home to try to talk him out of resigning.

The location of the protests is particularly galling for the NTC. Benghazi was the birthplace of the revolt against Qaddafi's rule and the site of the NTC's headquarters during the revolt.