Eastern Libya declares autonomy; Libyan leader vows to keep Libya together by force

Eastern Libya declares autonomy

Cyrenaica, the eastern region of Libya, has elected a regional congress and declared semi-autonomy from the capital Tripoli. The “blatant call for fragmentation” of the country was condemned by Libya’s ruling NTC.

Thousands of major tribal leaders and militia commanders attended a celebratory ceremony in the region’s center Benghazi on Tuesday.

The congress stated that Cyrenaica had suffered decades of marginalization under the ouster ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Now the oil-rich region extending from the coastal city of Sirte to Egyptian border is taking its fortunes into its own hands.

The congress appointed Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed, who was a political prisoner under Gaddafi and currently is a member of NTC, as leader of its governing council. Despite being a part of the Libya’s official ruling body, Al-Zubair pledged to protect the rights of the eastern region.

Libya’s National Transitional Council, which started uprising against Gaddafi in Benghazi and moved to Tripoli after his overthrow, repeatedly voiced objection to the planned autonomy. They said Libya’s transformation into a federal state paves the way to eventual split-up of the North African country.

“This is a blatant call for fragmentation,” said Fathi Baja, the head of political committee of the NTC. “We reject it in its entirety. We are against divisions and against any move that hurts the unity of the Libyan people.”

The head of the NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said the call for autonomy is a foreign plot. “I regret to say that these (foreign) countries have financed and supported this plot that has arisen in the east,” he told reporters. “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.”

The East, however, is pushing for a return to a system of rule that existed before the coup of 1967 which brought Gaddafi to power. At the time Libya was divided into three states – western Tripolitania, south-western Fezzan and the eastern Cyrenaica (or Barqa in Arabic).

A co-founder of the move for autonomy, Abu Bakr Baaira, pointed out that a federal system did not lead to a division of such countries as the US and Germany.

“Are the US, Switzerland and Germany divided?” Baaira said. “We hope they don’t force us to a new war and new bloodshed. This is the last thing we look for.”

Barqa will follow a peaceful way of making Tripoli and the NTC recognize its autonomy. Baaira does not rule out a possibility of going to the UN for such recognition.

The Easterners have already formed their own army, the Barqa Supreme Military Council, which is independent from the NTC. The army is made up from revolutionaries who fought against Gaddafi rule last year. And now the forces are ready to fight for autonomy, Barqa commander Col. Hamid Al-Hassi says.

“Even if we had to take over the oil fields by deploying our forces there or risk another war, we will not hesitate for the sake of Barqa,” Hassi told the Associated Press.

It is unclear how many Easterners really support the idea of autonomy. Although some 5,000 people have reportedly taken part in the “Congress of the People of Cyrenaica” ceremony, several thousand were protesting against it in Benghazi on Monday.

Libya seems to be falling apart as the NTC is trying to work out a new electoral law ahead of the parliamentary elections in June. The latest draft of the law allocates only 60 seats in the country’s 200-member National Council to the East, while the West will have 102 representatives. The “Congress of the People of Cyrenaica” has rejected this latest draft, apparently due to its discriminatory nature.
Libya’s east-west divide: Breakup inevitable?

A painful breakup between eastern and western Libya is a real threat to the future of the country, believes Eric Denece, the director and founder of the French Centre for Intelligence Studies.

“From the very beginning Abdul al-Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, and his crew have done everything to create such a breakup between western and eastern Libya,” he said.

But this kind of outcome was written a long time ago even before the revolution began, Denece believes.

For a long time Cyrenaica ruled the country under King Idris, before Gaddafi came to power and the people of eastern Libya wanted to take revenge and lead the country, Denece says. But after ousting Gaddafi they understood they are unable to hold power over the entire country and decided to “keep their riches” to themselves.

“They don’t want to share the oil with the people of Fezzan and Tripolitania,” Denece says.

Denece believes that the whole world is closely watching the situation in Libya, especially Egypt and the Gulf countries, which have always had their own interests in oil-rich Cyrenaica.

“Egypt always had an ambition for this part of Libya and it’s only because of Italian colonization that Cyrenaica belongs to Libya and not to Egypt,” he explained. “And on the other side I believe that countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be very pleased if they can create a new oil monarchy in Cyrenaica.”

Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of Pan-African News Wire, believes that there will never be unity in war-torn Libya. He told RT there was no political program that would reunite all the various opposition groups led by anti-Gaddafi forces and backed by the US and NATO.

“The only program they really had was removing Gaddafi from power. So there is nothing really to forge any type of national unity inside of Libya right now.”

The journalist blames Western interference for the unstable situation Libya now finds itself in and believes that the war has done more to destabilize Libya and all of North Africa. “The West intervened in sectional conflict that was taking place inside the country. They had, in fact, armed the opposition groups for decades just waiting for the opportunity to come in and engineer this type of regime change.”


Libyan leader vows to keep nation together by force

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.”

His comments come amid mounting evidence that Libya is slowly splintering into a series of rival fiefdoms controlled by competing militias, who increasingly follow their own agendas rather than acting in the national interest.

In February, the city of Misrata, which suffered a brutal siege by pro-Muammar Gaddafi forces, forged ahead with its own municipal elections, while the militia in Zintan is still holding Gaddafi’s son Saif.

Misrata has established a security zone that prohibits many Libyans from entering. It held the first city council elections in Libya last month, without the involvement of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).

The sense of growing instability in Libya was compounded by a recent Amnesty International report that the hundreds of militias vying for power in the country were out of control and increasingly behaving like mafia organisations.

Jalil’s comments are unusually strident for the Libyan leader and 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.

As well as deep rivalries between individual cities, Libya has long been marked by a divide between east and south – Cyrenaica and Tripolitania – that has re-emerged since the fall of the old regime. This history is exacerbated by the fact that most of the country’s oil reserves are in the east.

The competition has led to armed clashes in the capital, Tripoli, and elsewhere and a growing distrust as the country has struggled to move forward to elections and a national government since Gaddafi’s overthrow last October.

Their declaration of autonomy, and the appointment of Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya’s former king, Idris, as head of the Cyrenaica 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 that had been neglected by the former regime of Gaddafi.

The Cyrenaica council insisted that control of the national army, foreign policy and oil reserves would remain with the national 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 Tripoli and Benghazi itself.

The call underlines the continuing fragmentation of a country where the central government has been struggling to exert control, four months after the official end of the revolution. The NTC has been the target of sporadic protests nationally over its failure to hold 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 have continued in parts of the country.


Categories: Imperialism, Imperialist War, International, Libya, Racism

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