AL-BAIDA, Libya — Hundreds of federalism backers who massed in east Libya on Tuesday insisted on the region's autonomy and challenged the framework for electing a constituent assembly.
Participants issued a statement stressing their "commitment to the autonomy of Cyrenaica stretching from the border with Egypt (in the east) to Syrte," the hometown of slain leader Moamer Kadhafi.
Cyrenaica, which runs from the Mediterranean coast southward to Chad, comprises half of the country's territory and holds about three-quarters of Libya's vast oil reserves.
The federalist camp would also liked to see the law governing the June election of a constituent assembly scrapped and replaced with one that would "split membership equally" across Libya's three historic regions.
Libya was a federal union from 1951 to 1963 under King Idris I, which divided the country into three administrative states -- Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.
The current electoral law would distribute seats in the constituent assembly according to the number of inhabitants in major cities and towns.
The resulting constitution will then be put to a referendum.
Those lobbying for a federal system say they recognise the ruling National Transitional Council as their legitimate representative in international affairs but want to manage taxes, police and other matters locally.
Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, a descendant of the late monarch, was elected leader of the self-proclaimed region's interim council on March 6, sparking a furious reaction in Tripoli and raising fears of fragmentation.
Senussi on Tuesday unveiled the council's intention to establish a security organ tasked with protecting the Cyrenaica region in cooperation with the national army and security forces.
Two hundred delegates representing villages and towns of the eastern region were due to elect an executive body that would be tasked with managing its daily affairs, according to spokesman Abubaker Baira.
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