CAIRO — Dozens of armed rioters stormed into the Libyan Parliament in Tripoli on Sunday, setting fire to the grounds, looting furniture and wounding a prominent lawmaker in a spasm of anger at the clotted and chaotic transition after the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi.
Less than two weeks after a vote to elect an assembly charged with writing a new constitution, the bedlam at Parliament dampened hopes of renewed momentum for the transition, or even of a break from the violence. Security guards outside the building encouraged the rioters, witnesses said, and looters running amok suspended the symbolic white chair of the parliamentary leader from a lamppost. Later, they set the chair on fire.
In Benghazi, Libya, at least three people were killed by gunshots, according to news reports, adding to an accelerating pattern of assassinations of former Gadhafi security officers and foreigners. Together, the events appeared to suggest that the newly elected constitutional assembly may face a race to finish its work before the country comes apart at the seams; it is already dogged by doubts about a turnout of less than 15 percent of the electorate and incomplete elections — disrupted by violence — that left 13 of 60 seats unfilled.
In Tripoli, the capital, the riot was kindled by impatience with the 3-year-old transition.
Libya’s transitional Parliament had once pledged to disband by Feb. 7, 2014, but it expected the drafting of the constitution to have been completed by then. Now lawmakers are heatedly debating plans and schedules for some new system of early elections that might replace the legislature and government while the constitution is finished.
But outside the parliament building, continuous protests have been demanding the immediate dissolution of the chamber, even without a ready replacement.
By Saturday, protesters set up a tent blocking the entrance. In response, witnesses said, gunmen who appeared to be supporting the Parliament — possibly from rival militias — attacked the small sit-in, reportedly arresting or kidnapping activists. Some witnesses also reported gunfire.
When two protesters were returned unharmed about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, an angry crowd of about 75 was waiting, said Rawad Radwan, 23, a blogger who was there and filmed some of the events. As dusk settled, some fired guns in celebration, the crowd grew to a few hundred, and some of them started running for the Parliament, he said.
Witnesses said the Parliament’s security guards seemed to cheer on the protesters. “There were security guards, but they did not do anything,” Radwan said. “I heard one say, ‘Just go in — we are with you guys,’” he continued, suggesting that the Parliament “is not protected by the right people.”
The only resistance came from protesters intent on remaining peaceful, two witnesses said. “I saw people breaking into cars and looting stuff while other protesters were trying to prevent them from doing this, but it was really hard to stand against those thieves,” Radwan said.