By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI Libya (Reuters) - Libyan authorities signaled on Thursday they would press ahead with plans to move the country's parliament to the eastern port city of Benghazi despite a collapse in law and order there.
The plan to move the newly elected national assembly from the capital Tripoli to the country's second largest city is part of efforts to rebuild state authority in the underdeveloped east, neglected by Libyan governments for decades.
Justice Minister Saleh al-Merghani said the government had decided to allocate 25 million Libyan dinars ($20.83 million) to moving the new assembly, elected last month in a vote marred by a very low turnout and violence.
"There is nothing to stop us having the legislative authority in this city," he told reporters, adding he hoped further funds would be found for helping to turn Benghazi into the permanent home of the assembly.
Diplomats and some lawmakers from the previous parliament have questioned how the assembly plans to meet in a city where the weak government forces hold little sway.
Security has worsened since a renegade general declared war on militant Islamists in May, turning parts of Benghazi into a battle ground, with fighting continuing even during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
Speaking after talks with lawmakers and local security officials, Merghani said security forces would work out a plan to protect the assembly in Benghazi.
Lawmakers from outside Benghazi will live in the Tibesti hotel, which will also serve as the seat of the assembly, he said. A landmark tower-shaped building, the hotel has struggled to attract travelers since the ousting of veteran Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 in an armed uprising.
Asked about security for the building located in the city center, lawmaker Amal Bayu who attended the meeting said: "We hope the people of Benghazi will protect the assembly like they protected the National Transitional Council during the revolution (against Gaddafi)."
Benghazi was the cradle of the 2011 uprising during which it hosted the rebels' headquarters.
Results of the June election are expected on July 20, but fewer than half of eligible Libyans voted, a disappointing turnout that reflected disillusion with the chaos prevailing in the oil-rich North African country since Gaddafi's overthrow.
In a reminder of the lack of security in Benghazi, gunmen shot dead on election day Salwa Bugaighis, a prominent female human rights activist who helped organise the city's protests against Gaddafi that kicked off the uprising.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones)