Libyan protesters storm government house and set fire to building as seething anger peaks

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Libya’s rival leaders were under mounting pressure from the streets on Saturday after protesters stormed parliament as anger exploded over deteriorating living conditions and political stalemate.

Libyans, many of whom are impoverished after a decade of unrest and sweltering in the summer heat, have suffered power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, fuel shortages and crumbling services and infrastructure, even as their country sits atop Africa’s largest proven oil reserves. .

Protesters ransacked the offices of the Libyan parliament building and set some of them on fire after breaking through the perimeter on Friday evening.

Libya has been plunged into chaos and repeated cycles of conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

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On Friday evening, protesters stormed the seat of the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk, ransacking its offices and setting part of the building on fire.

Some waved the green flags of the former Gaddafi regime.

The UN’s special envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, said on Saturday that “the riots and acts of vandalism” were “completely unacceptable”.

“It is absolutely vital that calm be maintained, that responsible Libyan leadership be demonstrated and that all exercise restraint,” she tweeted.

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

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– Year ‘extremely painful’ –

Presidential and legislative elections, originally scheduled for December last year, were set to cap a UN-led peace process after the last major cycle of violence ended in 2020.

But the vote never took place due to several controversial candidacies and deep disagreements over the legal basis for the ballot between rival power centers in the east and west.

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

The sudden eruption of unrest appears to be spreading to other parts of the country, with Libyan media showing images of protesters in the oasis town of Sebha, deep in the Sahara desert, setting fire to an official building.
Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah leads a Tripoli-based administration while former interior minister Fathi Bashagha enjoys the support of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

“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 not take place for at least two years, given the failure of the Geneva negotiations,” said Libyan expert Jalel Harchaoui. told AFP.

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, adding that the economy “probably should have been the real top priority”.

– ‘Fragile situation’ –

Libya’s energy sector, which under Gaddafi funded a generous welfare state, has also been the victim of political divisions, with a wave of forced shutdowns of oil facilities since April.

Supporters of the east-based administration have turned off oil taps as leverage in their bid to secure a transfer of power to Bashagha, whose bid to take office in Tripoli in May ended in a swift withdrawal .

Libya’s National Oil Corporation announced losses of more than $3.5 billion from shutdowns and lower gas production, which is having a ripple effect on the power grid.

“There is systematic kleptocracy and corruption in both the east and the west, as the luxury cars and villas of the elite keep reminding the public,” Harchaoui said, blaming the militias for the two camps to engage in “massive” fuel trafficking.

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

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

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

AFP

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