By Dominique Soguel / AFP
TRIPOLI: Libyan leader Mustapha Abdel Jalil on Wednesday said he would defend national unity “with force” if necessary, after tribal leaders and a political faction declared autonomy for an eastern region.
“We are not prepared to divide Libya,” Abdel Jalil said as he called on leaders in the eastern Cyrenaica region to engage in dialogue and warned them against remnants of the regime of slain leader Moamer Qaddafi in their ranks.
“They should know that there are infiltrators and remnants of Qaddafi’s regime trying to exploit them now and we are ready to deter them, even with force,” he said in televised remarks during a conference in Misrata to draft a national charter.
“The national charter contains provisions that protect this nation and it is like a constitution for Libya’s future,” Abdel Jalil said of the document, which hasn’t been made public yet.
A faction of tribal and political leaders in the oil-rich east of the country is trying to carve out a semi-autonomous territory and has called for a federal system of governance.
On Tuesday, they unilaterally declared the region of Cyrenaica as autonomous but recognized the ruling National Transitional Council as the country’s legitimate representative in foreign affairs.
Libya was a federal union from 1951 to 1963 during the monarchy of Idris Senussi, which split the country into three states — Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.
Advocates of a return to federalism say it will prevent the east from being marginalized as was the case for decades, while opponents fear the initiative will split the country and stand in the way of reconciliation.
Senior officials in Tripoli, including interim Prime Minister Abdel Rahim Al-Kib, have flatly rejected the federalist project as a throwback to the past, promoting a program of decentralization instead.
On Tuesday, Abdel Jalil charted that some Arab nations were supporting and financing sedition in eastern Libya in a bid to prevent the so-called Arab Spring from reaching their doorsteps.
Hundreds of people demonstrated on Wednesday against federalism in southern Libya —- including in the desert cities of Sabha and Kufra, according to video footage posted on Facebook.
Several Libyan cities, including Benghazi, have witnessed similar rallies rejecting the federal system of government, with banners emphasizing national unity and state-building, and stressing that Tripoli is the only capital.
Ahmed Zubair Al-Senussi, who was appointed to lead Cyrenaica on Tuesday, downplayed fears that the federal model, which grants each territorial unit limited executive, legislative and judicial powers, would splinter the country.
“This is not sedition,” he said in an interview with AFP, arguing that federalism, which thrived in the United Arab Emirates, is the most suitable form of government for Libya.
Senussi is a relative of the late monarch, a member of the ruling National Transitional Council, and was the longest serving political prisoner under Qaddafi’s regime.
Meanwhile, Organization of the Islamic Cooperation chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu urged Libyans on Wednesday “to preserve national unity and territorial integrity of Libya.”
Ihsanoglu in a statement received by AFP also “renewed his call for all Libyans to rally around the” ruling National Transitional Council “which is the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, and to support the transitional government in this important sensitive period.”