Security tight as Libya marks second anniversary of Qaddafi overthrow

In what appeared to be an attempt to assuage the militants, Libya's leader promises that the nation's next constitution would explicitly declare Islam as the country's religion.

A man waves a Libyan flag during celebrations commemorating the second anniversary of the February 17 revolution in Tripoli. Ismail Zitouny / Reuters
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BENGHAZI // Libya's leader called yesterday for unity in the North African nation as it celebrates the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi but plunged the country into lawlessness and economic woes.

Addressing thousands of flag-waving Libyans, Mohammed El Magariaf urged his countrymen to "join ranks and resolve our differences to build our nation."

He also promised to fight poverty and "marginalisation", and to give Libyans extra cash to mark the occasion. He did not say how much money he meant, or how it would be distributed.

Mr El Magariaf spoke at a rally in Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city that was the birthplace of the anti-Qaddafi uprising in 2011.

Libya has been roiled by instability and violence since the ouster of the regime. Benghazi has been among the worst-hit parts of the country, falling prey to armed militiamen and Muslim militants.

Mr El Magariaf alluded to the rise of radical Islam in the energy-rich nation, vowing that he would not allow Libya to become "an incubator of terrorism and violence."

In what appeared to be an attempt to assuage the militants, the Libyan leader promised that the nation's next constitution would explicitly declare Islam as the country's religion and that Islamic law, or Sharia, would be the main source of legislation.

He also vowed to push for laws that would "isolate" remnants of the old Qaddafi regime, another bid to appease militants who claim that members of the ousted regime remained in charge of many government departments as well as the security forces.

Yesterday's celebration was held amid tight security precautions. Army vehicles blocked roads leading to the site and snipers roamed nearby rooftops. Libya's borders with Egypt and Tunisia have been closed since Thursday, for four days, and all international flights were suspended except at the airports of Tripoli and Benghazi. Checkpoints have been set up around the two cities.

"We emphasise to our partners our determination that Libya does not become a base for or source of terrorism," said Mr El Magariaf, who is president of the national assembly.

Prime minister Ali Zeidan has hailed the Libyan people's rejection of "injustice and tyranny."

A number of opposition groups and civil society organisations, including those calling for federalism in eastern Libya, have temporarily suspend their calls to protest, initially planned for Friday, for fear of stoking violence.

* With additional reports from Agence France-Presse