Libyan protesters set fire to parliament building in Tobruk | Libya

Protesters have stormed Libya’s parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk and set parts of it ablaze, venting their anger at deteriorating living conditions and months of political deadlock.

Black smoke billowed as men burned tires and torched cars during the incident on Friday after a protester smashed through the compound’s gate with a bulldozer and others attacked the walls with construction tools, local media reported.

The building was empty, as Friday falls on the weekend in Libya.

Libya’s House of Representatives has been based in Tobruk, more than 600 miles (1,000km) east of the capital, Tripoli, since an east-west schism in 2014 that came three years after a popular revolution toppled the dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

A separate legislature, formally known as the High Council of State, is based in Tripoli as the oil-rich North African country remains divided between rival administrations vying for control.

Libya, sweltering in summer heat, has endured days of power cuts – a situation worsened by the blockade of key oil facilities amid the entrenched political rivalries.

“We want the lights to work,” chanted protesters, some of whom brandished the green flags of the Gaddafi regime.

The parliament condemned the “acts of vandalism and the burning” of its headquarters.

The interim prime minister of the Tripoli-based government, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, meanwhile voiced support for the protesters’ concerns in a Twitter message.

The two governments have been vying for power in Libya for months: the one based in Tripoli, led by Dbeibah, and the other headed by the former interior minister Fathi Bashagha, who was appointed by the parliament and is supported by the eastern-based warlord Khalifa Haftar.

Presidential and parliamentary elections, originally set for last December, were meant to cap a UN-led peace process following the end of the last major round of violence in 2020.

However, the vote was never held because of several contentious candidacies and deep disagreements over the polls’ legal basis between the rival power centres.

The United Nations said on Thursday that talks between the rival Libyan institutions aimed at breaking the deadlock had failed to resolve key differences.

The parliament speaker, Aguila Saleh, and the High Council of State president, Khaled al-Mishri, met at the UN in Geneva for three days of talks to discuss a draft constitutional framework for elections.

While some progress was made, it was not enough to move forward towards elections, with the two sides still at odds over who could stand in a presidential vote, said the UN’s top Libya envoy, Stephanie Williams.

On Saturday, Williams condemned the storming of the headquarters: “The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable.”

The prospect of elections appears as distant as ever since the parliament appointed Bashagha, arguing that Dbeibah’s mandate had expired.

After Bashagha failed to enter Tripoli in May, the rival administration took up office further east, in Sirte, Gaddafi’s coastal hometown.

There have been repeated skirmishes between armed groups in Tripoli, prompting fears of a return to full-scale conflict.

Demonstrators rallied in other cities on Friday including Tripoli, where protesters held up crossed-out images of Dbeibah and Bashagha.

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“Popular protests have erupted across Libya in exasperation at a collapsing quality of life, the entire political class who manufactured it, and the UN who indulged them over delivering promised change,” Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote on Twitter.

“Things are escalating quickly and the response will define Libya’s summer.”

On Thursday, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) announced losses of more than $3.5bn (£2.9bn) from closures and declared force majeure on some sites, a measure freeing it of contractual obligations because of circumstances beyond its control.

The NOC said output “dropped sharply” and exports had fallen to between 365,000 and 409,000 barrels a day, a loss of 865,000 barrels a day compared with the average before April.

Haftar’s forces control major oil facilities.

A drop in gas production has contributed to Libya’s chronic power cuts, which have lasted up to 12 hours a day.

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