Over a thousand Libyans rallying for the autonomy of the oil-rich east have flocked to central Benghazi. Calls to divide Libya have met with stiff opposition from the government who brand them as foreign-inspired plots to weaken national unity.
Libyans calling for the creation of the semi-autonomous region of Cyrenaica waved banners and chanted separatist slogans. Cyrenaica stretches from the Mediterranean coast to southern neighbor Chad and boasts almost three quarters of Libya’s sizeable oil reserves.
“Ignoring our demands for federalism has dire consequences on the future of Libya,” read one banner.
The activists would like to see Libya’s second-largest city become the nation’s economic capital, housing the central bank and oil and finance ministries.
Earlier in the meeting the separatist movement released an official declaration, stating their “full support for the elected government, which won the confidence of the General National Congress, in order to draft a constitution on the basis of the legitimate constitution of 1951.”
Under the 1951 constitution, the country was divided into three administrative zones – Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica. The federalist movement claim that they were neglected under the Gaddafi regime and want the new constitution to be based around the previous federal union system.
The pro-federalism movement materialized in March in Benghazi, the seat of the uprisings that ousted former dictator Colonel Gaddafi. Libya’s transitional government was quick to condemn the separatist movement, denouncing it as the product of foreign plots aimed and inciting instability and attacking national unity.
The fragmentation of Libyan society remains one of the largest obstacles facing the country’s leaders. Despite the creation of an interim government Libya is still plagued by tribal confrontations and clashes between pro-Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi militias which the government has struggled to bring under control.
Government forces laid siege to the former regime stronghold of Bani Walid for several weeks as authorities seek to wheedle out and arrest those who captured and tortured Omran Shaaban, the 22-year-old who reportedly captured Gaddafi.
Humanitarian organizations condemned the government’s blockade, saying that it was preventing invaluable food and medicine supplies from entering the town. Additionally, Libyan activists in the city told RT that chemical weapons had been used on civilians in Bani Walid by militia forces.