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“Fragile situation” as anger simmers in Libya over living conditions

#Fragile #situation #anger #simmers #Libya #living #conditions

Libya’s rival leaders faced mounting street pressure on Saturday after protesters stormed parliament as anger exploded over deteriorating living conditions and political deadlock.

Libyans, many impoverished after a decade of turmoil and sweltering in the rising summer heat, have endured power outages of up to 18 hours a day, fuel shortages and crumbling services and infrastructure even as their country sits on Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.

Libya has been mired in chaos and repeated rounds of conflict since a NATO-backed insurgency toppled and killed dictator Muamer Gaddafi in 2011.

Protesters stormed the House of Representatives seat in the eastern city of Tobruk on Friday night, ransacked its offices and set fire to part of the building.

In both the eastern capital of Benghazi – the cradle of the 2011 uprising – and the capital Tripoli, thousands took to the streets to shout “We want the lights to work”.

Some waved the green flags of the former Gaddafi regime.

The United Nations’ top envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, said on Saturday that “riots and acts of vandalism” were “completely unacceptable”.

“It is absolutely essential that calm is maintained, responsible Libyan leadership is demonstrated and restraint is exercised by all,” she tweeted.

UN-brokered talks in Geneva this week aimed at breaking the deadlock between rival Libyan institutions failed to resolve key differences.

– “Extremely painful” year –

Presidential and parliamentary elections originally scheduled for December last year were to cap a United Nations-led peace process after the end of the last major round of violence in 2020.

However, due to several contested candidatures and deep disagreements between the rival power centers in East and West over the legal basis of the elections, a vote never materialized.

Hundreds of people in Tripoli called for elections, a new political leadership and an end to the chronic power cuts on Friday.

The sudden outbreak of unrest appeared to spread to other areas of the country, and Libyan media showed images of protesters in the oasis town of Sebha, deep in the Sahara, setting fire to an official building.

Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah heads a Tripoli-based government, while former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha has support from the Tobruk House of Representatives and eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

“For more than a year, the vast majority of diplomatic and mediation efforts in Libya have been monopolized by the idea of ​​elections that will not happen in at least two years given the failure of the Geneva talks,” Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui told AFP.

This year “has been extremely painful for Libyans” because the country “imports almost all of its food and the war in Ukraine has affected consumer prices,” Harchaoui said, adding that the economy “would probably be the real top priority should have”.

– ‘Fragile situation’ –

Libya’s energy sector, which funded a generous welfare state during the Gaddafi era, has also fallen victim to political divisions with a spate of forced oil plant shutdowns since April.

Supporters of the east-based government have shut off oil taps in a bid to secure a handover of power to Bashagha, whose bid to take office in Tripoli in May ended in a quick retreat.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation has announced more than $3.5 billion in losses from the shutdowns and a drop in gas production, affecting the power grid.

“Kleptocracy and systematic corruption exist in both East and West, and the elite’s fancy cars and mansions are a constant reminder to the public,” Harchaoui said, accusing militias from both camps of “massive” fuel trading.

In recent weeks, repeated skirmishes between armed groups have erupted in Tripoli, raising fears of a return to full-scale conflict.

European Union envoy to Libya Jose Sabadell said Friday’s events “confirm that people want change through elections”.

But he called for peaceful protests, adding that “given the fragile situation, particular restraint is required”.

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