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Libyan Tribes Press Demand for State Amid Opposition

Libyan tribal leaders declared the formation of a semi-autonomous region in the oil-rich east, posing a challenge to a national government that is trying to press forward with efforts at reconstruction and reconciliation.

The self-governing region of Barqa, or Cyrenaica, plans to administer itself and follow the national government in areas such as defense and foreign affairs, said Abdul Hakk Mabrouk, a speaker at the conference in Benghazi to declare the semi-autonomous area.

“The federation does not mean division, but organization,” Abdul Moniem Al-Obeidi, the organizer of the conference and a member of the influential Al-Obeidat tribe, said today. “Federation means fragmentation of the central government and not the nation.”

Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib has rejected calls for a federation, saying such change isn’t necessary because his new administration is working to decentralize government and services. He spoke on state television yesterday.

“I don’t believe the creation of a semi-autonomous region will be permitted,” Nicolo Sartori, an energy and defense analyst at Rome’s Institute for International Affairs, said in an e-mail. The challenge will make the central government’s “already difficult tasks even more complex.”

El-Keib has proposed an administrative division of the North African country that would create 12 governorates, his office said. The proposal gives each governorate a budget allocation proportionate to its population, with Tripoli, the capital, getting 30 percent and Benghazi, the second-largest city, 25 percent.

Maintain Stability

“I think the NTC, in order to maintain stability and to continue the difficult reconstruction process, would try to reach a compromise,” Sartori said.

The ruling National Transitional Council has been trying to unite tribal and regional groups while pursuing reconstruction efforts and looking to revive investor interest.

Tribal groups have been looking to increase their slice of the wealth in a country that sits atop Africa’s largest oil reserves, much of which in the east. The NTC declared victory over Muammar Qaddafi’s forces on Oct. 23, three days after his death at the hands of rebel fighters.

Hundreds gathered yesterday in Tripoli and Benghazi to condemn the plan that would transform Libya into a federation, according to state-run television. The demonstrators said they fought to depose Qaddafi to create a unified Libya.

Historically, tensions between east and west in Libya result from rivalries among the country’s scores of tribes and from Qaddafi’s efforts to divide the country’s riches and power among the tribes that supported him.

Crude for April delivery declined $1.47 per barrel, or 1.4 percent, to $105.25 a barrel at 10:20 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices are up 6.4 percent this year.

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