Hundreds of young Libyans first flooded the streets of Benghazi and other eastern cities late, setting piles of tires ablaze, witnesses said, a spontaneous outburst of anger over the area’s crippling electricity shortages.
Libya’s east-based parliament has convened an emergency meeting to address the eruption of rare protests over dire living conditions across the country’s east, rallies that mirror similar recent protests in the west of the divided nation.
Hundreds of young Libyans first flooded the streets of Benghazi and other eastern cities late on Thursday, setting piles of tires ablaze, witnesses said, a spontaneous outburst of anger over the area’s crippling electricity shortages.
Late Friday, dozens of young male protesters were seen returning to the streets, blocking traffic at major intersections. Many demonstrators lit fires in the roads, chanting lyrics from popular anthems decrying government corruption.
“We, by God, have been destroyed,” said one protester, Sameh al Drissi. “We, the young people, have lost 10 years from our lives.”
The demonstrations followed similar protests over power cuts and corruption that have roiled the capital, Tripoli, and other parts of western Libya in recent weeks. Unlike the rallies in the west, however, the protests in Benghazi and elsewhere in the east did not appear centrally organised and were not violently dispersed.
In its emergency session Friday, the eastern House of Representatives sought to deflect blame for the deterioration of public services, accusing the Tripoli-based Central Bank and government of “plundering” the country and neglecting the east. In an effort to placate frustrated citizens, it promised to investigate “suspected corruption” and expedite municipal elections.
Haftar faces a series of defeats
In the west, the UN-supported government’s powerful interior minister, Fathi Bashaga, openly backed the protests against his internal rival, Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj — and was briefly dismissed from his post.
In the east, warlord Khalifa Haftar has faced a series of embarrassing defeats, with his forces retreating from most of the territories they seized during their failed 14-month campaign to capture Tripoli.
This week, Haftar was sidelined from the UN-brokered Libyan political talks that took place in Switzerland and Morocco, and is now trying to strengthen his hand against the east-based House of Representatives and its prominent speaker, Aguila Saleh, said Eljarh.
Saleh sent representatives to the talks and has positioned himself as a major Libyan power broker on the world stage, most recently by proposing a ceasefire and a political initiative.
Although Haftar and his forces are known to quash even the mildest dissent, late Thursday, the witnesses in Benghazi said police watched without reacting and even encouraged the protests. Eastern Libya’s interim government and the country's drastic lack of public services became the focus of outrage — not Haftar.
'Making every effort' to deliver fuel
Libya’s Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation issued a response on Friday to eastern authorities’ allegations that it has failed to provide fuel shipments to the east, where blackouts can exceed 12 hours a day.
The corporation promised it was “making every effort” to deliver fuel to “all parts of Libya and its power plants,” attributing the blackouts and fuel shortages to a months-long blockade of the country’s oil fields imposed by Haftar-allied eastern tribes.
Talks to reopen the pipelines have repeatedly broken down. The embargo has cut Libya’s oil production to a trickle, forcing refineries to shut and draining the budget for fuel imports, the corporation said.
An oil tanker carrying 39 million liters of fuel docked in Benghazi’s port on Friday afternoon to resupply power stations, east Libya’s Electricity Authority announced. But without electricity, the vessel would take another full day to unload.
The outbreak of unrest comes after delegates from rival camps, under heavy international pressure, came to a preliminary political agreement in the Swiss city of Montreux, which aims to guide Libya toward elections and demilitarise the contested city of Sirte, controlled by Haftar.
Citing the talks in Montreux, as well as political negotiations that continued Friday in Bouznouki, Morocco, the US Embassy in Libya said the “productive consultations" reflect “the deep desire of most Libyans to bring the conflict to an end.”
Before the latest ceasefire took hold, both the Turkish-backed Tripoli government and Haftar's forces, supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, were facing off over Sirte, a gateway to Africa's largest oil reserves.