‘Vulnerable situation’ in Libya as anger bubbles over living conditions

Libya’s rival leaders came under increasing 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 unrest and sweltering in the rising summer heat, have faced fuel shortages and power cuts for up to 18 hours a day, even as their country sits atop Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.

The country has been embroiled in chaos and repeated rounds of conflict since a NATO-backed insurgency in 2011 overthrew and killed dictator Moamer Gaddafi.

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

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

Some waved the green flags of the former Gaddafi regime.

Calm seemed to have returned to Tobruk on Saturday, although social media called for more protests in the evening.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on “all actors to refrain from actions that could undermine stability” and urged them to “come together to break the ongoing political deadlock,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. declaration.

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

‘Extremely painful’ year

Presidential and parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for December last year, were intended to conclude a UN-led peace process after the end of the last major round of violence in 2020.

But no vote was taken due to several contentious candidatures and deep disagreements over the legal basis of the polls between the rival centers of power in the east and west.

Hundreds of people came out in Tripoli on Friday to demand elections, new political leadership and an end to chronic power cuts.

The sudden outbreak of unrest appeared to spread to other parts of the country, with Libyan media showing images of protesters in the oasis city of Sebha, deep in the Sahara, setting fire to an official building.

A local journalist said protesters in Libya’s third city, Misrata, blocked roads after setting fire to a municipal building on Friday night.

After dark, protesters also gathered at several points in Tripoli, closing some roads and burning tires, according to images broadcast by local media.

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

Haftar’s troops said on Saturday they “support the demands of the civilians”, but called on protesters to “maintain public property”.

Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui told AFP that “for more than a year, the overwhelming majority of diplomatic and mediation efforts around Libya have been monopolized by the idea of ​​elections, which will only take place in two years, given the failure of negotiations.”

This year “has been extremely painful for Libyans” as the country “imports almost all of its food and the war in Ukraine has hit consumer prices,” Harchaoui said.

‘Vulnerable situation’

The Libyan energy sector, which funded a lavish welfare state during the Gaddafi era, has also fallen victim to political divisions, with a spate of forced shutdowns of oil facilities since April.

Government supporters in the east have shut off oil taps as leverage in their efforts to hand over power to Bashagha, whose bid to take office in Tripoli in May ended in a swift withdrawal.

“There is kleptocracy and systematic corruption in the east and west, as the luxury cars and villas of the elite are a constant reminder to the public,” Harchaoui said, accusing militias from both camps of carrying out “mass” fuel smuggling. .

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

But he urged peaceful protests, adding that “special restraint is necessary given the fragile situation”.

US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said that “no political entity enjoys legitimate control over the entire country and any attempt to impose a unilateral solution will result in violence”.

He urged Libya’s “political leaders across the spectrum and their foreign backers to seize the moment to restore their citizens’ confidence in the country’s future”.