Libyan militia threatens to cut gas deliveries

Dozens of angry protesters in Tripoli, blocked off the Foreign Ministry building complaining of the government’s poor performance and corruption

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A Libyan militia that shut down most of the country’s oil terminals for months threatened Sunday to cut off natural gas deliveries to the capital, potentially imperiling the power supply in a serious escalation of its standoff with the central government.

A spokesman for a militia in the country’s east, who did not identify himself, said in a recorded statement aired on local television stations that the government has 48 hours to resume paying salaries to the group, which was originally in charge of securing oil and gas facilities in the country’s east.

Since this summer, the group has shut down the oil terminals, demanded greater autonomy and a larger share of oil revenues for the region. The group is leading a campaign for a federal system, in which each region has some autonomy. Like other Libyan regions, easterners have long complained of discrimination by the central government in Tripoli.

The group’s leader had declared the formation of an autonomous regional government and a regional company to handle sales of oil in the last two months, further challenging a central government already weakened by the proliferation of militias, which have grown following the downfall and death of longtime dictator Moammar Qaddafi.

The central government rejected the declarations but has not moved against the militia that shut the terminals since last summer.

The government had no immediate reaction to the militia’s threat. The natural gas supply is essential for power plants in Tripoli and in the rest of the country.

Highlighting the popular anger against the government, dozens of angry protesters in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, blocked off the prime minister’s office and the Foreign Ministry building Sunday, complaining of the government’s poor performance and widespread corruption, a security official said.

The protesters placed chunks of concrete blocks in front of Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s office. Zidan later met his visiting Algerian counterpart in another location.

The official said protesters also demonstrated in front of the Foreign Ministry demanding the resignation of the government. He said others prevented employees of the telecommunication company from entering their offices.

The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief journalists, said the demonstrators later dispersed peacefully.

Meanwhile, a Benghazi hospital received the body of Meftah Hamid Najem, a retired police colonel who served in the foreign intelligence department, said Fadya al-Barghathi, a hospital spokeswoman. Najem had been shot in the head, she said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. There has been a wave of assassinations and bombings in Benghazi that have targeted police officers and army officers in recent months. Benghazi is a stronghold of militias with roots in the rebel brigades that fought against Gadhafi. Some of the groups are Islamic hard-liners with al-Qaida links.

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