By Oliver Holmes
BENGHAZI, Libya, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The deputy head of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Sunday he was resigning after a series of protests against the new government which the country's leader warned could drag Libya into a "bottomless pit."
Late on Saturday, a crowd demanding the government's resignation smashed windows and forced their way into the NTC's local headquarters in Benghazi, in the most serious show of anger at the new authorities since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted.
The NTC has the support of the Western powers who helped force out Gaddafi in a nine-month conflict, but it is unelected, has been slow to restore basic public services, and some Libyans say too many of its members are tarnished by ties to Gaddafi.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-president of the NTC and one of the council's highest-profile members, was the target of some of the protesters' criticism. He said he was quitting to try to limit the damage to the council.
"My resignation is for the benefit of the nation and is required at this stage," Ghoga told Al Jazeera television.
He said the national consensus that helped the country rise up and end Gaddafi's 42-year rule had not lasted into peace-time, giving way instead to what he called an atmosphere of "hatred."
"I do not want this atmosphere to continue and negatively affect the National Transitional Council and its performance," said Ghoga, who also acted as the NTC's spokesman.
Ghoga is one of the most senior of Libya's new rulers to have left office since Gaddafi's overthrow in August. His departure will revive doubts about the NTC's ability to form a cohesive and effective government.
He was jostled by an angry crowd of students when he visited a university in Benghazi on Thursday. He had to be pulled away to safety.
NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil, speaking in Benghazi earlier on Sunday, appealed to the protesters to be more patient.
"We are going through a political movement that can take the country to a bottomless pit," he said. "There is something behind these protests that is not for the good of the country."
"The people have not given the government enough time and the government does not have enough money. Maybe there are delays, but the government has only been working for two months. Give them a chance, at least two months."
In a glimpse of the lack of coordination which Western diplomats say pervades the workings of the NTC, Abdel Jalil was asked if Ghoga would be stepping down and said he would not.
The protests in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, are particularly troubling for the NTC because the city was the birthplace of the revolt against Gaddafi's 42-year rule. It was the site of the NTC's headquarters during the revolt.
Abdel Jalil said he met with religious leaders and protesters to discuss their grievances.
He said he had accepted the resignation of the head of the Benghazi local council, Saleh El-Ghazal. Like most Libyan officials, the head of the council was appointed but Abdel Jalil said his successor would be chosen through an election. (Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Taha Zargoun in Tripoli and Mohammad Al Tommy in Benghazi; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by)