Libyan tribal leaders declare semi-autonomous eastern stateBy
Ruling National Transitional Council in Tripoli rejects declaration at conference in Benghazi of self-governing state of Barqa
Libyan tribal leaders have unilaterally declared nearly half of the oil-rich east of the country to be semi-autonomous in a move that opponents fear is the first step toward a carve-up of Libya six months after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Thousands of tribal representatives, militia commanders and politicians told a conference in Benghazi that the new state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force and courts to run its own affairs and place its capital in Benghazi.
Under their plan, foreign policy, the national army and oil resources would be left to a central, federal government in Tripoli. Barqa would cover nearly half the country, from central Libya to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south.
Libya’s National Transitional Council, the interim central government based in Tripoli, has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the creation of a partly autonomous eastern region, warning it could eventually lead to the breakup of the North African nation of 6 million.
“This is very dangerous. This is a blatant call for fragmentation. We reject it in its entirety,” said Fathi Baja, the head of political committee of the NTC. “We are against divisions and against any move that hurts the unity of the Libyan people.”
The declaration underscored the weakness of the NTC, which has been largely unable to establish its authority around the country since the fall of Gaddafi in August and his death in October.
In fact, the NTC holds little sway even in Tripoli, where militias that arose during the anti-Gaddafi revolt have divided neighborhoods into fiefdoms.
The prime minister of the interim government created by the NTC, Abdel-Rahim al-Keeb, admitted on Monday that the government was not performing satisfactorily. “The government is not doing its job. My evaluation of its performance is not good,” he said in an interview on state TV. “The steps we are taking are slow.”
The NTC has called for national elections in June to select a 200-member assembly that will name a prime minister to form a new government and write a constitution.
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