Tribal, political and militia leaders in the city of Benghazi have declared a semiautonomous region in oil-rich eastern Libya. Benghazi was the stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi's opponents in last year's uprising.
Leading figures in eastern Libyan region of Cyrenaica declared the creation of a council to administer the province's affairs on Tuesday. About 3,000 delegates attended a ceremony in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold during last year's conflict with troops loyal to former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, where Sheikh Ahmed Al-Zubair al-Senussi was installed as regional leader.
The gathering also issued a statement calling for a return to federalism in Libya, describing such a system as "the choice of the region."
Tuesday's declaration does not carry official force, but puts the province on course for confrontation with Libya's interim leaders, the National Transitional Council (NTC), in the capital Tripoli. The NTC has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the creation of a partly autonomous region in the oil-rich east of the country, saying it might eventually lead to the breakup of Libya.
People in the Cyrenaica region have for many years complained of what they regard as neglect from Libyan ruling elites in Tripoli.
Sheikh Al-Zubair is a relative of Libya's former king and became the country's longest-serving political prisoner under the Gadhafi regime. He is also a member of the NTC, whose first official headquarters were established in Benghazi during last year's civil war.
The region singled out for semiautonomous rule would stretch from the city of Sirte to Libya's border with Egypt in the east.
The delegates in Cryenaica on Tuesday said in their statement that they intended to work within the framework of the NTC interim government, which they considered to be "the symbol of the country's unity, and its representative in international forums."
msh/ng (AFP, AP, Reuters)