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FACTDROP: Eastern Libya Demands a Measure of Autonomy in a Loose National Federation
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3/07/2012

Eastern Libya Demands a Measure of Autonomy in a Loose National Federation



Πηγή: New York Times
By SULIMAN ALI ALZWAY and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
March 7 2012

BENGHAZI, Libya — In a symbolic gesture of defiance, militia and tribal chiefs from eastern Libya gathered here on Tuesday to demand a return to the loose federation that prevailed before Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi took power four decades ago.

Challenging the country’s transitional leaders in the nation’s capital, Tripoli, the 3,000 people assembled in an old soap factory near the regional capital, Benghazi, also announced unilateral plans to begin establishing their own autonomous government.

The eastern region is crucial to Libya’s future because it contains much of the country’s oil, and the demands cast new doubts on the feasibility and credibility of the transitional leaders’ plans for elections in June to choose a national constituent assembly that would form a new government and draft a constitution.

Participants in the conference said their eastern state, known as Barqa, would have its own legislature, budget, police and courts, with Benghazi as its capital. But they said the federal government would continue to control foreign policy, the national army and the oil.

“We sent our sons and weapons to liberate the entire western area, so where is the division?” asked Dr. Ezza el-Hwaity, a speaker at the conference, alluding to the east’s place at the forefront of the uprising. “Are our demands too high compared to the sacrifices we made?”

A regional contest for power erupted immediately after the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi six months ago. Militias organized in several cities during the war have yet to turn over their weapons or submit to a central authority, and the transitional government has struggled to devise a formula that could reconcile competing demands for representation in the planned constituent assembly.

The so-called Transitional National Council, which came together without elections early in the uprising, recently announced plans that called for 111 members of the assembly to come from the populous western region around Tripoli and about 60 seats from the east of the country — a formula that helped provoke the eastern region’s declaration of autonomy on Tuesday.

Last month, a group of militias from western Libya formed their own alliance, ostensibly to stabilize their region but also to exert influence nationally.

The specter of partition has hung over the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi from the start, in part because of the country’s long history of division and its relatively short history of national unity in the area now known as Libya. Governed as three colonies by the Ottomon Empire, Libya was first constituted as a single unit after the conquest by Italy, in 1934, and the three provinces remained strong and largely independent even under the federal monarchy formed by the United Nations in 1951.

After his 1969 coup d’état, Colonel Qaddafi imposed a highly centralized police state on the provinces, and he moved the capital from the east to Tripoli in the west. Many in the east felt he starved their region of resources, and that region was the first to rise up against his rule.

In anticipation of fears that a challenge to Colonel Qaddafi could lead to a new partition of the country, demonstrators chanted for east-west unity from the beginning of the protests in Tripoli. The self-appointed leaders of the revolt quickly pledged to keep the capital in Tripoli, to help dispel the impression that the uprising was a battle of east against west.

As the transitional leaders have increasingly acquiesced to the autonomy of the freewheeling regional militias, questions of federalism and decentralization have dominated Libyan public debate across the country. Trying to forestall Tuesday’s declaration of self-government in the east, the transitional leaders recently stepped up talk of a decentralization that would allow citizens more of a voice in local affairs without dismembering the national government.

But on Monday, the acting prime minister, Abdel Rahim el-Keeb, appeared on state television to urge Libyans to reject the calls for “federalism.”

“We do not need federalism because we are heading toward decentralization, and we don’t want to go back 50 years,” he said, adding, “It is up to the silent majority to protect the institutions of the state, to fight the chaos.”


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