Arson suspected in Libyan poll office fire

TRIPOLI Thu Jul 5, 2012 8:24am EDT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The main storage center for election materials in the eastern Libyan town of Ajdabiya caught fire on Thursday in a suspected arson attack two days before a July 7 national election, eyewitnesses and a security source said.

The incident, which destroyed ballot papers and other election equipment, comes amid fears that the poll - that will elect a national assembly - could be marred by violence.

The security source said the fire was being investigated as suspected arson, while an official at Libya's national election commission in the capital Tripoli said any ballot slips destroyed in the incident would be replaced before Saturday.

The storage center is located on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, but the main election commission headquarters in the center of town were not affected, according to witnesses.

Last weekend, protesters demanding greater powers for Libya's eastern region stormed an election commission office in the city of Benghazi, 160 km (100 miles) further east.

Last year's ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising has brought into the open regional tensions that were suppressed in Libya under his 42-year rule.

Many easterners complain of being neglected by the interim leadership in the capital Tripoli and say their region - where the bulk of Libya's oil industry is located - should have greater autonomy and access to financial resources.

Libyans head to the polls on July 7 to elect a 200-strong national assembly that will appoint a prime minister, make laws, and help draft a new constitution for the country.

(Reporting by Ali Shuaib; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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