TRIPOLI / BENGHAZI
Soldiers from the National Army of Cyrenaica take part in a military parade graduation ceremony in Benghazi. Cyrenaica will have its own police force after the autonomy. REUTERS photo
Libyan leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil charged March 6 that some Arab nations were supporting and financing sedition in eastern Libya and vowed to defend national unity “with force” if necessary, hours after tribal and militia leaders declared autonomy for the region.
“Some sister Arab nations unfortunately are supporting and financing this sedition that is happening in the east,” Abdul Jalil told reporters at a press conference in Tripoli, without naming names, Agence France-Presse reported.
“Their fear made these sister nations unfortunately support this so that the revolution does not spread to their countries,” he said. “We are not prepared to divide Libya,” Abdul Jalil said as he called on leaders in the Cyrenaica region to engage in dialogue and warned them against remnants of the regime of slain leader Moammer Gadhafi in their ranks.
“They should know that there are infiltrators and remnants of Gadhafi’s regime trying to exploit them now and we are ready to deter them, even with force,” he said.Earlier, a meeting attended by some 3,000 people in the main eastern city of Benghazi declared the oil-rich region of Cyrenaica autonomous, raising fears the country may break up in the wake of Moammer Gadhafi’s downfall. The conference in Benghazi, which was the cradle of an eight-month uprising against Gadhafi that ended in his capture and killing, also called for a return to federalism in Libya. “The interim council of Cyrenaica was established under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi to manage the region’s affairs and defend the rights of its population,” read a statement following the meeting.Own parliament, own capital
The conference declared that the eastern state would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital, Benghazi, to run its own affairs, the Associated Press reported. Foreign policy, the national army and oil resources would be left to the central government in the capital Tripoli in western Libya.
Al-Senussi, who was elected leader of the region, is a member of the ruling NTC. “A federal system is the choice of the region” of Cyrenaica, which stretches from the central coastal city of Sirte to the Egyptian border in the east, the leaders said in their joint statement.
The province enjoyed prestige and power under King Idris, Libya’s post-independence ruler, because the royal family’s powerbase was in the east. But when the king was toppled by Gadhafi in a military coup in 1969, eastern Libya was sidelined for the next four decades. Residents complain that they have been denied a fair share of the country’s oil wealth.