AFP – 6th Jul 2012
RAS LANUF, Libya — Armed federalists have forced two oil terminals in eastern Libya to close in protest over not being granted more seats in this weekend’s first elections since Moamer Kadhafi was overthrown.
An oil industry expert on Friday downplayed the incident, predicting that it will all blow over after the elections, and noting that many major oil firms had evacuated expats, anticipating some unrest.
“This is just people jockeying for position,” he said, requesting anonymity.
“In terms of worldwide ramifications, it is a minor disruption because it will be for a short term, until elections are over.”
Thursday’s move to shut down pumping and loading at Haruj in Ras Lanuf came as people seeking autonomy in the oil-rich east threatened to boycott or even sabotage Saturday’s election for a General National Congress.
Ibrahim al-Jadhran, a protest leader, said demonstrators also blocked the port of Al-Sidra, 35 kilometres (20 miles) west of Ras Lanuf, and were heading east to the Brega oil terminal.
Earlier suspected arsonists ravaged a depot containing electoral material in the eastern city of Ajdabiya.
And on Sunday, armed men ransacked election offices in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the revolution that ousted Kadhafi last year and a bastion of the federalist movement that wants greater autonomy from Tripoli.
The weeks before the election have been marred by fighting between different communities, with bloody clashes in western hilltop towns claiming more than 100 lives and fighting in Kufra in the south leaving dozens dead.
“The harbour is closed… The pumping and loading of oil has been stopped… The group that came were federalists,” Tumi Shakari, a supervisor at a terminal in Ras Lanuf, said.
“A group of 15 people came around 9:30 pm (1930 GMT) and in a very peaceful and amicable manner asked us to shut down operations.
“This group has certain demands that they want to see fulfilled and they have asked us to stop our work for 48 hours,” he said, adding that workers had complied.
“The government must do something about this. This is their way of seeking attention for their demands,” Milad Mohamed Ali, superintendent of the Al-Haruj terminal west of Ras Lanuf, said on Friday.
— Anti-aircraft guns —
Tareq al-Tahi, senior superintendent at Al-Sidra, confirmed the terminal had been shut.
“At 7:30 pm (1730 GMT) a group of people came to us in armoured vehicles loaded with anti-aircraft guns and asked us to stop producing oil and loading cargo,” he said.
Federalist demands in the east are not the only concern ahead of the election.
Security services have warned that supporters of the former regime may seize the opportunity to disrupt the vote for a national assembly tasked with appointing a new government.
And Islamist groups in the east also oppose the vote, saying the devoutly Muslim country needs no constitution other than the Koran.
The outgoing National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Thursday that Islamic law (sharia) should be the “main” source of legislation, and that this should not be subject to a referendum.
One of the central demands of the federalist movement is an equal allocation of seats in the 200-member assembly.
The interim authorities allocated 100 seats to the west, 60 to the east and 40 to the south, based on demographic considerations.
The new assembly was to have become an interim legislature, appoint a new government and a panel to draft a new constitution.
But on Thursday, the NTC abruptly changed the rules it had itself set, saying the constituent authority must be elected separately rather than appointed.
That decision strips the General National Congress of what was to have been a core function, but it will retain legislative powers and the prerogative of appointing a government.
The amendment came in “response to demands made by a significant part of the population,” NTC spokesman Saleh Darhoub said.
An NTC delegate was more direct, saying its primary purpose was to appease the federalists.
Oil production is the major source of government revenues in Libya, and has reached 1.55 million barrels per day, nearing pre-war levels, officials say.
The oil complex at Ras Lanuf lies 360 kilometres (225 miles) west of Benghazi.
“We closed the terminal because we want our demands to be fulfilled. This is an issue of seat allocations,” said a former rebel manning a checkpoint on the coastal highway.