Declaration of autonomy by politicians and tribes in oil-rich eastern region prompts warning from Mustafa Abdul Jalil
The Libyan leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has vowed to use “force” to stop the country breaking up after leaders in an eastern region declared autonomy.
“We are not prepared to divide Libya,” he said, blaming “infiltrators” and “pro-Gaddafi elements” for backing the autonomy plan. “We are ready to deter them, even with force.”
The comments, unusually strident for the Libyan leader, came a day after 3,000 activists, politicians and tribal leaders met in the eastern city of Benghazi to inaugurate a self-declared Cyrenaica Provisional Council.
Their declaration of autonomy, and the appointment of Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya’s former king, Idris, as head of the new council, has rapidly spiralled into a crisis. Jalil warned: “I call on my brothers the Libyan people to be aware and alert to the conspiracies that are being plotted against them and to be aware that some people are dragging the country back down into a deep pit.”
Pro-autonomy leaders say their ambition is limited to self-government, in a region of Libya long neglected by the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi. The Cyrenaica council insisted that control of the national army, foreign policy and the country’s oil reserves would remain with the nation’s government.
But the declaration is also a reminder of the strength of regional and tribal affiliations in a country whose provinces formed the current state of Libya only in 1934, having been occupied by Italy and before that by the Ottoman empire.
Critics see it as evidence that eastern leaders want to form a breakaway state. It is lost on few Libyans that Cyrenaica, which stretches from the city of Sirte to the Egyptian border, contains 80% of Libya’s oil and only 20% of the population.
“It is crazy. Libya cannot divide,” said Abdulfatah Alghannai, a student in Misrata. “Nobody wants it. The martyrs and the wounded fought to unite Libya, not divide it.”
The call for autonomy centres on an eight-point declaration to “administer the affairs of the province”. Protests against the move took place earlier this week in the capital, Tripoli, and in Benghazi itself.
The call for autonomy underlines the continuing fragmentation of a country where central government is struggling to exert control, four months after the official end of the revolution.
Misrata, Libya’s third city, has established a security zone that prohibits many Libyans from entering. Last month it held the first city council elections in Libya, without the involvement of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).
The NTC is the subject of sporadic nationwide protests over its failure to hold its meetings in public or reveal the destination of the country’s booming oil revenues.
Libya’s militias remain outside central government control, many distrusting a national army staffed by Gaddafi-era officers. Sporadic clashes between militia groups continue in some parts of the country.
from Chris Stephen