07/07/2012 08:02 EDT | Updated 09/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Libya Election: Ottawa Throws Support Behind Libyan National Election


OTTAWA - Ottawa noted the "emotion and significance" of Libya's first free national election in decades on Saturday, voicing Canada's support for the country's democratic future.

The voting in the North African country came less than a year after the toppling of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi by rebel fighters, who were aided by NATO air forces, including fighter jets from Canada

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada "stands with the Libyan people" as they work to entrench the values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law for all in the country.

"We are inspired by all who, after battling tyranny and believing a better, brighter future was indeed possible, today turned out to cast a ballot and have a say in who should lead the country forward," Rick Roth said in a statement.

Libyans voted to elect a 200-member assembly whose first task will be naming a new government.

But despite the most visible step toward democracy in the country since Gadhafi's death last October, violence and protests during the election were a reminder of the challenges that lie ahead — challenges which Canada acknowledged.

There were attacks on polling stations in the eastern part of the country, where some Libyans are angry over what they see as domination by their rivals from western Libya. One person was killed and two were wounded in the region.

Nonetheless, Canadian Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who was in Libya observing the elections, said the majority of residents in the oil-rich country seemed jubilant while casting their ballots.

"This is not an election – this is a liberation party. Everyone is joyful, proud, happy and excited," he said in an email.

"The Libyans have gone out of their way to be friendly and accommodating, transparent and open."

Nearly 2.9 million Libyans, or 80 per cent of Libyans eligible to vote, registered for the election and more than 3,000 candidates plastered the country with posters and billboards. Electoral officials said turnout was 60 per cent and counting of the ballots had begun.

The last parliamentary election in Libya was in 1964, five years before Gadhafi's military coup that toppled the country's monarchy. Gadhafi's 42-year-rule ended when he was killed after months of bitter civil war.

Interim leaders who took over after his death have largely failed to rein in armed militias and provide security while deepening regional and tribal disputes erupted into bloodshed with alarming frequency.

The new parliament being voted in is itself temporary, tasked with forming a new government that will take over until a new constitution is drafted so new elections can be held next year.

— with files from the Associated Press

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