AFP – Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil charged on Tuesday that some Arab nations were supporting and financing sedition in eastern Libya, hours after tribal and militia leaders declared autonomy for the region.
“Some sister Arab nations unfortunately are supporting and financing this sedition that is happening in the east,” Abdel Jalil told reporters at a press conference in Tripoli, without naming names.
“Their fear made these sister nations unfortunately support this so that the revolution does not spread to their countries,” he said.
“What is happening today is the start of a conspiracy against the country … This is a very dangerous matter that threatens national unity,” Abdel Jalil warned.
Earlier, a meeting attended by some 3,000 people in the main eastern city of Benghazi declared the oil-rich region of Cyrenaica autonomous, raising fears the country may break up in the wake of Moamer Gaddafi’s downfall last autumn.
The conference in Benghazi, which was the cradle of an eight-month uprising against Gaddafi that ended in his capture and killing, also called for a return to federalism in Libya.
“The interim council of Cyrenaica was established under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi to manage the region’s affairs and defend the rights of its population,” read a statement following the meeting.
The new body will work within the framework of Libya’s interim government, which it considers to be “the symbol of the country’s unity, and its legitimate representative in international forums,” the statement said.
Senussi, who was elected leader of the region, is a member of the ruling National Transitional Council.
“A federal system is the choice of the region” of Cyrenaica, which stretches from the central coastal city of Sirte to the Egyptian border in the east, the leaders said in their joint statement.
The proponents of autonomy say the move derives its legitimacy from the 1951 constitution, which was adopted under the monarchy of King Idris and which divided Libya into three states — Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.
Senussi is a relative of the late king and was the longest-serving political prisoner during the Gaddafi regime.
“We are part of this country but we chose a particular system of governance to manage our local affairs,” Senussi said, pointing to the success of federal states such as Switzerland, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
“This is not sedition,” he told AFP in Benghazi, down playing fears that the federal model, which grants each territorial unit limited executive, legislative and judicial powers, would lead to the Libya’s fragmentation.
Abu Bakr Bayira, who has been spearheading the movement, said “this conference resulted in the choice of a type of government that is suitable to the Libyan people, especially in the Cyrenaica region.”
Advocates of federalism say it will prevent the east from being marginalised as was the case in the past, while opponents fear the initiative will split the country and stand in the way of reconciliation.
Several Libyan cities, including Benghazi, have witnessed rallies rejecting the federal system of government, with banners and slogans emphasising national unity and state-building, and stressing that Tripoli is the only capital.
Senior officials in Tripoli, including Abdel Jalil and interim Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib, have flatly rejected the federalist project, promoting a programme of decentralisation instead.