Protesters set government building on fire in eastern Libya

Rare protests over living conditions and corruption continue in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi for third day.

Protesters set fire to the eastern-based government’s headquarters in the Libyan city of Benghazi, as rare demonstrations over living conditions and corruption continued in the east of the country for a third day.

The protests late on Saturday also erupted in al-Bayda, in Sabha in the south, and for the first time in al-Marj, a stronghold of eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, witnesses said.

Libya has been split into rival camps with parallel institutions in the east and the west since 2014.

Eastern Libya and much of the south is controlled by Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is aligned with a government and a rump parliament also based in the east.

A 14-month offensive by the LNA to take control of the capital, Tripoli, from the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) crumbled in June, weakening Haftar.

Several hundred protesters turned out in the eastern towns to demonstrate against the political elite and over deteriorating living conditions that include lengthy power cuts and a severe banking crisis.

Similar protests broke out in late August in western Libya, where a new demonstration was planned for Sunday.

In Benghazi, the protesters – some armed with guns – set fire to the government building, leaving its white facade charred black, according to witnesses and pictures posted on social media. The fire was later brought under control.

The building was constructed after the LNA took control of Benghazi in 2017 after a campaign that left parts of the port city in ruins. 

The economic crisis across Libya and power cuts in the east have been worsened by a blockade of most of the country’s oil facilities imposed by the LNA and its supporters since January.

The United States said on Saturday Haftar had agreed to end the blockade, but sources in eastern Libya said negotiations were continuing.

Tripoli protests

Meanwhile, on Sunday, hundreds of protesters also gathered in Tripoli to decry poor living conditions and demand political reforms in Libya.

Standing outside the headquarters of the Presidential Council, the demonstrators raised placards calling for long-delayed elections to be held, witnesses said. 

They denounced the turbulent transitional period that has dragged on in the country since a 2011 armed revolt toppled long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi. 

Some organisers of Sunday’s rally condemned frequent power outages and short water supplies while addressing the demonstrators, who turned out following an online call to protest, the witnesses said. 

The speakers also rejected recent decisions made by the Presidential Council, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, including to appoint Mohammed Bayou, regarded as a loyalist of Haftar, as head of a newly created state media body.

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