Eastern Libya defies Tripoli to create autonomous council

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BENGHAZI, Libya – Civic leaders in Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica province, home to most of the country’s oil, have declared the creation of a council to administer the province’s affairs.

Tuesday’s declaration does not carry official force but it puts the province – unhappy for many years at what it regards as neglect by rulers in Tripoli – on course for a confrontation with Libya’s interim leadership, the National Transitional Council (NTC).

About 3,000 delegates at a congress in the eastern city of Benghazi installed Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya’s former king and a political prisoner under ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi, as head of the new council.

Moves towards greater autonomy for Cyrenaica will worry international oil companies operating in Libya, because it raises the prospect of them having to re-negotiate their contracts with a new entity.

The declaration by the congress did not make clear whether the new provincial council would exist within the NTC’s institutions, or be a rival to it.

Asked to clarify that point, Mohammed Buisier, one of the organisers of Tuesday’s congress, told Reuters: “I’ve been in contact with people in Tripoli and I told them ‘come here and negotiate’… It should be through negotiation.”