Libya Rebels Build Parallel State
Opposition's Leaders Accumulate the Trappings of Independence, Despite Struggles on the Battlefield
By CHARLES LEVINSON
BENGHAZI, Libya—Rebels here have drafted a constitution that calls for full equality regardless of gender, race or religion, part of their effort to convince the world they are committed to democracy and deserve international support.
The document represents a milestone in the rebels' effort to move rapidly from a grass-roots uprising to a government with all the trappings of statehood.
Human rights groups say pictures of cluster bombs found in Libya prove that Col. Moamar Ghadafi is using the deadly weapons against his own people. Video courtesy of Reuters.
The progress in Benghazi contrasted with the rebel fighters' struggle to make gains in the military battle against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces. President Barack Obama, in an interview with the Associated Press, said the fight was at a stalemate, but that Col. Gadhafi was under growing pressure to quit.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's civilian chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday echoed an op-ed statement by Mr. Obama and his French and British allies that NATO's mission would continue until Col. Gadhafi was gone.
Col. Gadhafi's forces continued to shell the contested city of Misrata Friday—though during a respite there, several ships were able to dock, deliver aid and evacuate some of the thousands of migrant workers trapped there, according to rebels and aid organizations. But Human Rights Watch said it had evidence that Col. Gadhafi's forces have fired cluster munitions in the city. Most countries have banned the use of such weapons, which can endanger civilians.
Rebels seeking stronger aid in their fight have reached out to show their commitment to Western values and allay concerns about the role of Islamist fighters in their military.
The temporary constitution, drafted by a group of intellectuals for the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council, is one of the many signs of the rebels' effort to build a new Libya.
In recent weeks, the rebels have received foreign envoys and visiting heads of state as a sovereign government would. They have taken steps to govern their borders, such as making a new exit and entry stamp for visitors, and recording arrivals and departures. They have formed parallel leaderships and new headquarters for critical government institutions, such as the central bank and the National Oil Company. They are in the process of re-creating a tax authority.
On Edge in Libya
Alongside these steps, rebels see what they consider to be growing signs of international recognition, including proclamations of support at a conference in Doha this week.
"Our friendship is slowly developing with the U.S. and the Europeans," said Gen. Ahmed al-Ghatrani, a rebel military commander in Benghazi.
The constitution's preamble says its aim is a Libyan society based on "freedom, justice, and equality, and a democratic government based on political pluralism, peaceful transition of authority, and an independent judiciary." The document also enshrines freedom of speech, media and peaceful assembly.
A senior rebel official said the document won't be officially adopted until eastern Libya is reunited with the west after Col. Gadhafi's ouster. At that point it will only serve as a temporary constitution until a more expansive formal document is drawn up with broader popular input.
"It tells the world who we are and what we want," said Abdel Moneim Bendardf, a senior adviser to rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
The constitution was drafted by a group of advisers to the rebel governing council that first proposed Mr. Jalil to be president of the rebel governing body and which drafted a list sanctions on Col. Gadhafi's regime that the rebel government submitted to the United Nations.
Rebel leaders appeared to be succeeding in their bid to impress Western powers, many of whom, including the U.S., U.K., France, Italy and the European Union, have sent envoys to Benghazi in recent weeks.
"We are ready to open a consulate here for the long run," said a Western envoy, who said he was "impressed" with what he had seen of the rebels.
In most cases, those envoys have been empowered to speak on behalf of their home governments, an authority usually reserved for ambassadors serving in the capitals of sovereign states.
When a delegation of African heads of state and officials visited the rebel capital to present a peace proposal on April 11, the full contingent of diplomats and international press was on hand for the event. The rebel leadership appeared more stately than ragtag.
They smoothly executed customary diplomatic and ceremonial procedures for state visits. They provided Mercedes cars and black-suited security escorts for the visiting dignitaries, red carpets, and even newly minted diplomatic VIP plates adorned with the tricolor flag of Libyan independence.
The new interim chiefs appointed by the rebel leadership say they will step down once the country is reunited.
"Once we kick Gadhafi out, there are many younger people who should take the lead in running the national oil company and other companies," said 74-year-old new chairman of the rebel-run National Oil Company, Wahid Bugaighis. "We are too old for that."
—Sam Dagher and Stephen Fidler contributed to this article.
Write to Charles Levinson at email@example.com
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