Benghazi clashes, match moved to Tripoli

Photo: Michael Aron

Damiano Benzoni

Football normalisation in Libya encounters its first halt after the National team played its first International in two years on home soil on June 7th. The match against Togo scheduled at the Martyrs of February stadium in Benina, in the Benghazi region, on June 14th will be played in Tripoli instead after a protest against armed militias in the city of Benghazi turned into a clash between protesters and militias which took a death toll of 31. Similar protests took place, without incidents, in the rest of the country, under the slogan “Elections create legitimisation, arms create a dictatorship”. According to a Benghazian interviewed by William Wheeler of the Global Post, “what happened was tragic, but necessary—the only thing […] that [will] finally strip the mask off the militias masquerading as legitimate authorities”.

The previous day the country had celebrated a small step towards normalisation when the national team played its first home international in two years. The match, a World Cup qualifiers against Congo DR, ended in a goalless draw, even though the Libyans dominated the second half. In the first half the Congolese keeper Robert Kidiaba had saved a Libyan penalty kicked by Ahmed Osman, while right before half-time a second penalty was not conceded to Libya by the Botswanian referee Joshua Bondo. The British ambassador Michael Aron had commented on Twitter:

The June 14th match against Togo – last in the table – will be vital for Libya, leading the table unbeaten with the same points as Cameroon. The last match of the group, in September, will see Libya and Cameroon playing the decider of Group I. The Benghazi clashes are an uncomfortable sign for the Libyan FA, which has promised to fulfil all the security requirements asked by FIFA and which will have to prove worthy of hosting the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Libya has planned to build eleven new stadiums for the tournament. The hope of the deputy Prime Minister Awad Ibrahim Elbarasi is that the tournament will be – as the 1995 RWC was for South Africa – the chance for pacifying the country: “Just like Nelson Mandela unified South Africa, we hope to unify Libya under this cup”.

[UPDATE JUNE 12th, 2013] Two Togolese players, Jonathan Ayité and Alaixys Romao, have withdrawn from the team and refused to play the match in Libya, asking it to be moved to a neutral venue as they are concerned for their own safety. On his Twitter account, Romao announced: “I’m about to take off from Lomé to go back to France, as we have clearly not been taken seriously”

and added: “Tripoli or Benghazi, where is the difference? I will change my mind only if the FIFA officials who made the decision will come with us”.

The two players were part of the Togo team at the Africa Cup of Nations 2010 in Angola. The team bus was assaulted by separatist militias of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda. The attack resulted in the deaths of the assistant coach Améleté Abalo, of the Télévision Togolaise journalist Stanislas Ocloo and of the bus-driver Mário Adjoua. The goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilalé was also wounded seriously and had to quit football as he suffered severe walking problems afterwards. 

The Italian embassy in Tripoli suffered a car-bomb attack yesterday, which resulted in no victims.

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