Eastern Libyan government resigns amid protests

Both the internationally-recognised parliament and Thani’s government are allied with the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which controls Libya’s east and south.
Monday 14/09/2020
Libyan youth block a road with burning tyres in Libya’s eastern coastal city of Benghazi on September 12, 2020, as they protest poor public services and living conditions. (AFP)
Libyan youth block a road with burning tyres in Libya’s eastern coastal city of Benghazi on September 12, 2020, as they protest poor public services and living conditions. (AFP)

BENGHAZI – An interim government in eastern Libya resigned on Sunday amid street protests that erupted across the divided country over dire living conditions, officials said.

Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani submitted the resignation of his government to Aguila Saleh, speaker of the eastern-based House of Representatives, said government spokesman Ezzel-Deen al-Falih.

Abdallah Abaihig, a spokesman for the parliament, confirmed the government’s resignation, saying lawmakers would review it in their next meeting. No date has been set for the session.

Parliament on Friday accused the Central Bank and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) of “plundering” the country and neglecting the east, in apparent efforts to deflect blame for the deterioration of public services.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival east- and west-based administrations.

Both the internationally-recognised parliament and al-Thani’s government are allied with the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which controls Libya’s east and south.

In Benghazi, the protesters, some armed, set fire to the government building, leaving its white facade charred black, according to witnesses.

The building was constructed after the LNA took control of Benghazi in 2017 following a campaign that left parts of the port city in ruins.

Protests also erupted late on Saturday in Bayda, where the government was previously based, in Sabha in the south and for the first time in Al-Marj, a Haftar stronghold, witnesses said.

In Al-Marj, residents said there were clashes between security personnel and protesters, and heavy gunfire could be heard in videos posted on social media.

The UN mission to Libya (UNSMIL) expressed “grave concern” at reports that one civilian had been killed, three injured and others arrested in the town.

It called for “a thorough and immediate” investigation into “the reported excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrations” and the speedy release of detained protesters.

Protesters angry over the area’s crippling electricity shortages set fire to tires on Thursday, September 10, 2020 in Benghazi, Libya. (AP)
Protesters angry over the area’s crippling electricity shortages set fire to tires on Thursday, September 10, 2020 in Benghazi, Libya. (AP)

In a statement Sunday, LNA spokesman Ahmad al-Mismari voiced the army’s support for “peaceful demonstrations that call for fighting corruption and improving living conditions”.

“We support the protesters’ rightful demands but we will not allow for terrorists and the Muslim Brotherhood to exploit the current unrest by infiltrating the demonstrations,” he said.

The demonstrations mirror similar recent protests over power cuts and corruption in the capital Tripoli and other western Libyan cities. The protests have led to a power struggle within the Turkey-backed GNA, based in the capital Tripoli.

The recent protests across Libya are “motivated by deep-seated frustrations about sustained poor living conditions, shortages of electricity and water, rampant corruption, misgovernance, and a lack of service provision throughout the country,” UNSMIL said.

The UN mission said the protests underscore “the urgent need to lift the oil blockade” and return to a “full and inclusive” political process to end Libya’s years-long conflict.

Powerful tribes in eastern Libya loyal to Haftar closed oil export terminals and choked off major pipelines at the start of the year to exert pressure on the GNA, which is accused of using oil revenue to fund militias and mercenaries.

The US Embassy in Libya said Haftar agreed to reopen oil fields and terminals no later than Saturday. By Sunday evening, it was not clear whether the blockade had been lifted.

Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 to try to capture Tripoli. But the campaign collapsed in June when Tripoli-allied militias, with heavy Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving Haftar’s forces from the outskirts of the city and other western towns.

Fighting has died down in recent weeks amid intensive international efforts, including from the United States, to establish a lasting ceasefire and avert a battle over the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway for vital oil facilities.