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Protesters storm Libya's Tobruk parliament building

July 2, 2022

The UN and EU have condemned protesters who broke into the parliament building and set fires in front of it. Power cuts have sparked widespread anger.

Protesters holding a flag in front of the parliament building, which is in flames
Protesters stormed the parliament building in Tobruk and set parts of it alight on Friday eveningImage: REUTERS

The United Nations and European Union on Saturday condemned protesters in Libya who stormed the parliament building in Tobruk to express their anger with the government over recent power cuts.

Local television stations reported that protesters broke into the building of the parliament in Tobruk on Friday and committed acts of vandalism. Images also showed columns of black smoke coming from outside the building. Security forces protecting the parliament withdrew from the site, Reuters cited an eyewitness as saying.

UN special adviser on Libya, Stephanie Williams, called the storming of the government building "totally unacceptable" while insisting that "people's right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected." She called for "restraint" on all sides.

The EU's delegation head in Libya, Jose Sabadell, said on Saturday that "protests must be carried out peacefully and avoid any type of violence," adding that "special restraint is necessary given the fragile situation."

Libya's parliament, or House of Representatives, has been based in Tobruk, hundreds of kilometers east of the capital, Tripoli, since an east-west split in 2014 after the uprising and western intervention that ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi three years earlier.

A rival body, formally known as the High Council of State, is based in Tripoli.

Protests across the divided country

In Tripoli's Martyrs' Square, several hundred people gathered to shout slogans demanding electricity, criticizing armed factions and politicians and demanding elections in the capital's biggest protests against the ruling elite for years.

Young people stage a protest demanding the dissolution of the legislative and executive institutions in the country at Martyr's Square in Tripoli, Libya on July 01, 2022.
Libyans also protested in the capital Tripoli on Friday, demanding the dissolution of the legislative and executive institutionsImage: Hazem Turkia/AA/picture alliance

Smaller protests of dozens of demonstrators also took place in each of Benghazi and Tobruk and some smaller towns, showing how anger at the situation extends across the geographical divide between the country's rival forces.

Libya has endured several days of power cuts, worsened by the blockade of several oil facilities against the backdrop of political rivalries.

"We want the lights to work," protesters chanted.

Support from Tripoli

Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the head of Libya's Government of National Unity, said he supported the protesters. He called for all institutions to leave including the government, adding that it was only possible through "election."

Dbeibah, the sitting prime minister was appointed by a 2021 UN-backed commission on an interim basis. He has since refused to step down, saying he would only do so for an elected government. His administration is based in the capital of Tripoli.

Fathi Bashagha was appointed prime minister by the country's eastern parliament, which based in the city of Tobruk, in February 2022. The administration is backed by military commander General Khalifa Haftar.

Both sides are supported by different militias and foreign powers.

Deadlock in Libya

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

But the vote never took place due to several contentious candidacies and deep disagreements over the polls' legal basis between rival power centers in the east and west.

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

ab, sms, dh/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)