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High stakes as restive Benghazi votes in Libyan local polls

A woman dips her finger in a bottle of ink before voting in the municipal election at a polling station in Benghazi April 19, 2014. REUTERS/
A woman dips her finger in a bottle of ink before voting in the municipal election at a polling station in Benghazi April 19, 2014. REUTERS/

BENGHAZI (Reuters) - Libyan voters went to the polls on Saturday to elect municipal council members in 15 cities, including Benghazi, the country's second city, which is seeking greater autonomy for the eastern seaboard region.

With 41 more municipalities due to vote in the next three weeks, the elections pose an organizational and security challenge for a country that is still riven by factional fighting, nearly three years after the civil war that toppled veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Benghazi has until now had only an interim council with piecemeal funding from central government, but the election is meant to pave the way for fuller and more regular allocations, potentially improving the volatile city's relationship with Tripoli.

Results of the contest, where 74 candidates are vying for nine seats, are expected on Tuesday.

Militias in Libya have become increasingly powerful and violent. Earlier this month, the interim prime minister resigned after just a month in the position, saying gunmen had tried to attack his family.

In Libya's eastern cities, mainly Benghazi and Derna, around 200 people have been killed since early 2013, according to activists and local army officials.

Rebels remain in control of Libya's two largest oil terminals - Es Sider and Ras Lanuf -- with their fate depending on talks that include rebel demands for greater autonomy in the eastern region of Cyrenaica, of which Benghazi is the capital.

(Writing by Julia Payne; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell and Mark Trevelyan)

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