BENGHAZI, Libya – Tribal leaders and militia commanders declared oil-rich eastern Libya a semiautonomous state on Tuesday, a unilateral move that the interim head of state called a “dangerous” conspiracy by Arab nations to tear the country apart six months after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.
Thousands of representatives of major tribes, militia commanders and politicians made the declaration at a conference in the main eastern city of Benghazi, insisting it was not intended to divide the country. They said they want their region to remain part of a united Libya, but needed to do this to stop decades of discrimination against the east.
The conference declared that the eastern state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital – Benghazi, the country’s second largest city – to run its own affairs. Foreign policy, the national army and oil resources would be left to the central government in the capital Tripoli in western Libya.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the Tripoli-based interim central government known as the National Transitional Council, warned the declaration “leads to danger” of eventually breaking up the North African nation of 6 million. But he also said it was to be expected, because the east played a pivotal role in ending Gadhafi’s rule.
“Some Arab nations, unfortunately, have supported and encouraged this to happen,” he said, without naming any countries.