Libya’s eastern parliament meets after protests erupt

DUBAI (AP) – Libya’s east-based parliament convened an emergency meeting on Friday to address the eruption of rare protests over dire living conditions across the country’s east, rallies that mirror similar recent protests in the west of the divided nation.

Hundreds of young Libyans first flooded the streets of Benghazi and other eastern cities late Thursday, setting piles of ty res ablaze, witnesses said, a spontaneous outburst of anger over the area’s crippling electricity shortages.

Late Friday, dozens of young male protesters were seen returning to the streets, blocking traffic at major intersections.

Many demonstrators lit fires in the roads, chanting lyrics from popular anthems decrying government corruption.

“We have been destroyed,” said one protester, Sameh al-Drissi. “We, the young people, have lost 10 years from our lives.”

The demonstrations followed similar protests over power cuts and corruption that have roiled the capital, Tripoli, and other parts of western Libya in recent weeks.

Protesters, angry over the area’s crippling electricity shortages, set fire to tyres in Benghazi. PHOTO: AP

Unlike the rallies in the west, however, the protests in Benghazi and elsewhere in the east did not appear centrally organised and were not violently dispersed.

War-torn Libya is split east to west between two administrations, each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers. Military commander Khalifa Hifter rules the east and south, while a United Nations (UN) supported government based in Tripoli controls the west.

In its emergency session on Friday, the eastern House of Representatives sought to deflect blame for the deterioration of public services, accusing the Tripoli-based Central Bank and government of “plundering” the country and neglecting the east.

In an effort to placate frustrated citizens, it promised to investigate “suspected corruption” and expedite municipal elections.

Yet on both sides of the country, analysts said, internal splits have deepened amid a pause in fighting. Political factions are seeking to co-opt popular fury over the country’s litany of grievances – cash shortages, electricity and water cuts, collapsing infrastructure, rife corruption and a devastating coronavirus outbreak.

“Power brokers are trying to utilise the protests for their own gains and purposes,” said Mohamed Eljarh, co-founder of Libya Outlook, a consultancy based in eastern Libya.

In the west, the UN-supported government’s powerful Interior Minister, Fathi Bashaga, openly backed the protests against his internal rival, Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj – and was briefly dismissed from his post.