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[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): In eastern Libya, a push for more autonomy from Tripoli

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 6 Mar 2012 01:15:06 +0100

In eastern Libya, a push for more autonomy from Tripoli

Mon Mar 5, 2012 8:04pm GMT

* Civic leaders to hold congress to propose federal state

* Eastern Libyans complain of neglect by Tripoli rulers

* Libya's east is home to biggest oil fields

* Protest in Benghazi against autonomy initiative

By Christian Lowe and Ali Shuaib

TRIPOLI, March 5 (Reuters) - Civic leaders from Libya's eastern Cyrenaica
province will on Tuesday launch a push for regional autonomy, posing a new
challenge to the country's fragile cohesion after the overthrow of Muammar

Five thousand people are due to attend an inaugural "Congress of the People
of Cyrenaica" near the eastern city of Benghazi where they will set out a
proposal for Libya to be transformed into a federal state, one of the
organisers said.

"We would like in Cyrenaica to take care of housing, education and other
things and would delegate national security, defence ... to the central
government," said Mohammed Buisier, a Libyan-American who is helping
organise the congress.

"We believe in one Libya," he told Reuters by telephone from Benghazi,
cradle of the revolution against Gaddafi last year.

"People in Cyrenaica have for 40 years suffered from negligence ... If we
keep this negligence towards the east, I cannot guarantee that Libya will be
united in 25 years time."

Any moves for greater autonomy for eastern Libya could unsettle the central
government, and foreign oil firms, because the bulk of Libya's oil reserves
are in Cyrenaica and its biggest state oil company is based in Benghazi.

It was not clear how many in eastern Libya support the initiative.

Several thousand people marched to Benghazi's courthouse on Monday night to
express their opposition. The protesters chanted: "Libya is united!" and "Do
not break up Libya!"

Abdullah Bin Idriss, a member of the local council in the town of Jalu,
eastern Libya, said he was opposed to the idea. He said some of the
pipelines that pump crude to the east's oil terminals flow through his
district. If Benghazi declares autonomy, he told Reuters, "We will turn off
their oil."

For about 10 years after it became an independent state in 1951, Libya was
run along federal lines, with power devolved to Cyrenaica, the southern
province of Fezzan, and Tripolitania in the west of the country.

Libya centralised its government in the last years of the rule of King
Idris, and Gaddafi accelerated the process when he came to power in a
military coup in 1969.

Since Gaddafi's 42-year rule ended, calls for federal rule have become more
vocal. They have been fuelled by long-standing complaints in the east that
it has not been given a fair share of Libya's wealth, and by the weakness of
the central government which took over after Gaddafi's overthrow.

Mohammed al-Harizi, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC),
Libya's interim leadership, said people were free to lobby for regional

But he said: "This is not the vision of the NTC ... and I am sure that the
Libyan people, as a whole, do not support this idea."


The organiser of the Cyrenaica congress said there were no plans to
unilaterally declare autonomy from the rest of Libya. He said delegates
would be "putting on the table" their proposal, and would use peaceful means
to press their case.

The idea of more autonomy could tap into discontent in Benghazi about the
shortcomings of the NTC . Some people accuse it of being too slow to restore
public services and of a lack of transparency in how it spends revenues from
oil exports.

NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who is himself from the east, in January had
to seek refuge from bottle-throwing protesters who stormed the council's
Benghazi offices.

Buisier said the first steps would be to create a 300-member "High Council
for Cyrenaica" and to lobby for Cyrenaica to be given more representation in
an election, scheduled for June, to choose a new national assembly.

Asked if the province would take unilateral action if the central government
blocked its plan for a federal state, he said: "I do not want to visit this.
We will see."

The revolt against Gaddafi's rule began in Benghazi on Feb. 17 last year,
when government troops fired on residents protesting against poverty,
official neglect and repression. Until the revolt reached Tripoli, Benghazi
was the headquarters of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion.

The proposal to give Cyrenaica autonomy is viewed with unease by many people
in Tripoli, who believe it risks leading to the break-up of Libya.

"Unity is a red line and it is not up for discussion," said Abbas al-Gadi,
deputy head of the Libyan National Party, which will compete in the June

C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved


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