Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil has said he will defend the country’s national unity “with force” if necessary, after tribal and political leaders declared semi-autonomy for Libya’s oil-rich eastern region.
“We are not prepared to divide Libya,” Jalil, head of the governing National Transitional Council (NTC), said in a speech shown on national television Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported.
Speaking at a conference in Misrata to unveil a draft national charter for Libya, he called on key figures in the eastern Cyrenaica region, which holds two-thirds of Libya’s oil reserves, to engage in dialogue, and warned them that former members of the Gadaffi regime were among their ranks:
“They should know that there are infiltrators and remnants of Gadaffi’s regime trying to exploit them now and we are ready to deter them, even with force.”
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The warning came a day after civic leaders at a meeting of around 3000 people near the eastern city of Benghazi said the eastern region would administer itself, though they insisted they would follow Tripoli in areas like foreign affairs and defense.
The leaders demanded a regional parliament for the region and control over the policing and judicial system, but stopped short of advocating a division of Libya, according to the BBC.
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Senior officials in Tripoli have rejected moves towards regional autonomy, however, fearing a federal Libya would split the North African nation.
Instead, the draft national charter unveiled by Jalil today lays the foundations for a parliamentary democracy with a decentralized system of administration, promising local accountability through mechanisms put into force by the executive branch, the Agence France Presse reports.
Supporters of autonomy for the east say they are simply reverting to a constitutional arrangement set down in the 1950s which divided Libya into three states – Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan – and granted Cyrenaica a large degree of self-government.
They claim autonomy for the region – which runs from the central coastal city of Sirte to the Egyptian border in the east – will ensure they are protected against the marginalization and neglect endured by easterners for decades.
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