Tribal leaders and militia commanders in oil-rich eastern Libya have declared a semi-autonomous region, raising fears that the country might disintegrate following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), the interim central government based in the capital Tripoli, has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the creation of a partly autonomous eastern region, warning it could eventually lead to the break-up of the North African nation.
Thousands of representatives of major tribal leaders, militia commanders and politicians made the declaration on Tuesday in a ceremony held in the eastern city of Benghazi.
They vowed to end decades of marginalization under Gaddafi and named a council to run the affairs of the newly created region, extending from the central coastal city of Sirte to the Egyptian border in the east.
Waheed Burshan, a senior representative of the NTC, told Al Jazeera that the tribal leaders were looking for political power, but the ordinary people of the east wanted a unified Libya.
“Well obviously, all Libyans have the right to express their opinion. But the fact is, for Libyans to consider such a split in the country and its governance, I think it is clearly not advisable. The Libyan people will not stand for it,” he said.
“For majority of people looking for a unified Libya, the thought of having separate autonomous region it’s definitely not acceptable. I think people will react swiftly on this type of decisions. I think people are discussing the idea of demonstrating for several days to make sure such a thing does not happen.”
The gathering appointed Ahmed al-Zubair, Libya’s longest serving political prisoner under Gaddafi, as leader of its governing council.
Al-Zubair, who is also a member of the NTC, pledged to protect the rights of the region but also said his council recognizes NTC to run Libya’s international affairs.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda abdel Hamid, who recently returned from eastern Libya, said the move will intensify the rivalries.
“People were saying that according to the 1951 constitution which is now valid in Libya, there are two capitals: Tripoli as a political capital, and Benghazi as the economic capital. They want that status back.
“They also say we are so far away from Tripoli, a 12 hour drive really- and everything is centralized in Tripoli. For any kind of administrative papered, they have to go all the way and back.”
The gathering of the leaders also rejected an election law which allocated 60 seats for the eastern region out of 200-member assembly set to be elected in June.