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article imageLibyan prime minister fired as conflict grows with eastern rebels

By Ken Hanly     Mar 11, 2014 in Politics
Benghazi - Embattled Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been voted out of power by the General National Congress or parliament. The current defense minister Abdallah al-Thani will replace Zeidan on an interim basis.
The parliament has been meeting in the Radisson Hotel since the parliament buildings were damaged in earlier protests. Before this vote protesters demonstrating in front of the hotel had tried to storm the session but were repulsed. The motion to dismiss Zeidan came after news reports that the the Morning Glory a North Korean-flagged ship that had loaded oil illegally at a rebel held port had escaped a government naval blockade.
There are conflicting reports. A Libyan Coast Guard official said that the tanker had been targeted "55 miles off the coastal port of Sidra" and disabled. Sky News Arabia also reported that LIbyan coast guard vessels have shelled the ship and created a small fire on board that forced it to stop.
The eastern part of Libya, Cyrenaica or Barqa, has declared its own autonomous government and a pro-autonomy militia controls three eastern ports. The group had tried to export oil independently of the state oil company NOC. The group has controlled the ports since last summer causing exports of oil from Libya to plummet and costing the Libyan treasury huge sums.
Zeidan, a liberal, has been fighting with Islamists in the GNC who want him removed. He is so weak that his orders are not even carried out. In early February he ordered the armed forces to clear the blockaded ports but nothing happened.
While the Morning Glory was initially able to escape and sail east from the port of Es Sider in bad weather, Zeidan said in an interview that the tanker had been halted by the Libyan navy and allied militias and it was being escorted to a government-controlled port in western Libya. Lawmaker Sharif al-Wafi, an independent, said: "The government has been weakened for a time and we need a new personality," He claimed a new prime minister would be elected within two weeks by the deputies.
The government actions could spark further conflict with rebels in the east. There are reports of clashes between government and rebel forces in the coastal city of Sirte which is close to Es Sider. Rebels, who have their own armed groups, claim that they have moved forces to central Libya to repel any attempt by the central government to retake the three ports they have seized and a fourth that they control.
The GNC parliamentary spokesperson Omar Hmidan said that a task force composed both of regular soldiers and militia loyal to the central government had been sent to bring the rebel blockaded ports back into central government control. The decision was made by the GNC president Nuri Sahmein who is also chief of the armed forces.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Washington was concerned about the loading of illicitly obtained oil: "This action is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people, The oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners."
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