Libya's power cuts enrage citizens, spurring protest

4/7/2022 5:43:00 PM

'They promise us electricity every year. And there is nothing.'

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'They promise us electricity every year. And there is nothing.'

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI (Reuters) - When the power cut out in Libya's Benghazi last week, Haitham al-Ghoul dashed into the street with his five-year old son Othman to find somewhere to plug in a respirator the child needs to ease asthma attacks.

"We suffer a lot from power cuts in Benghazi. I'm just one of many cases," Ghoul said.Frustration at power cuts and myriad other failings of Libya's feuding factional leaders erupted into protests on Friday against political institutions on nearly all sides of the country's messy conflict.

In Tripoli several hundred people demonstrated in Martyrs Square, the biggest such protest in years, while in Tobruk people stormed the parliament building, setting bits of it on fire.Although the protests were about other problems too, the main demonstration was called over the electricity crisis, showing how such frustrations can escalate in Libya's volatile political climate.

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A photograph of Ghoul hugging Othman on the street with the respirator hooked up to a shop's private generator soon went viral on Libyan social media networks, symbolising a power crisis that has infuriated Libyans across political divides.for the latest news you need to know.for the latest news you need to know.passport renewal in Australia .

"We suffer a lot from power cuts in Benghazi. I'm just one of many cases," Ghoul said. Libyans, many impoverished after a decade of turmoil and sweltering in the soaring summer heat, have been enduring fuel shortages and power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, even as their country sits atop Africa's largest proven oil reserves. Frustration at power cuts and myriad other failings of Libya's feuding factional leaders erupted into protests on Friday against political institutions on nearly all sides of the country's messy conflict. The evidence of kidnappings, murder and torture in Tarhouna by the independent Fact-Finding Mission represents one of the most egregious examples of human rights abuses in the turbulent period since long-ruling Muammar Gaddafi's ousting in 2011. In Tripoli several hundred people demonstrated in Martyrs Square, the biggest such protest in years, while in Tobruk people stormed the parliament building, setting bits of it on fire. Protesters stormed the seat of the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk on Friday night, ransacking its offices and torching part of the building. Although the protests were about other problems too, the main demonstration was called over the electricity crisis, showing how such frustrations can escalate in Libya's volatile political climate.

The power sector has been wrestling for years with maintenance problems, war damage, theft of equipment, corruption and, more recently, a blockade of oil facilities by eastern factions that has cut off fuel supplies to some power stations. Some brandished the green flags of the former Kadhafi regime. It identified four commanders who participated directly in them. State electricity company GECOL is working with foreign contractors to bring three more power stations into operation this summer, but work has been slower than promised. Even outside a main GECOL building in central Tripoli, a big yellow generator stands to keep the office working during power cuts. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on"all actors to refrain from any actions that could undermine stability" and urged them"to come together to overcome the continued political deadlock", spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. When entire neighbourhoods of Tripoli plunge into darkness during hot summer nights, the growl of private electricity generators turning on drowns out most other sounds as they pump out acrid smoke from their diesel engines. The mission used satellite imagery showing signs of soil disturbances among other evidence to identify three new likely sites. Even those who can afford the generators find it hard and expensive to buy fuel, sometimes queuing for hours at a time. 'Extremely painful' year 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.

The machines often break and piles of old ones are often visible outside the many workshops that have sprung up to repair them. With power cuts sometimes lasting more than 24 hours, often taking out internet access across whole districts, it comes to affect almost aspect of life. In Tripoli on Friday, hundreds came out to demand elections, fresh political leadership and an end to the chronic power cuts. It is not immediately clear how the findings will reflect on Libyan authorities. CUTS When the Four Seasons restaurant in Tripoli - no connection to the hotel chain - decided to offer free, generator-powered, working space to students studying for exams, it received a flood of young people clutching book bags and laptops. "Generators need constant maintenance and I'm always scared it would be stolen," said Aya Makki Sharif, an engineering technology professor who had brought her 11-year old son al-Zarrouk to the restaurant to work with him on his maths. A local journalist said protesters in Libya's third city Misrata were blocking roads after setting fire to a municipal building on Friday night. "When the electricity goes off, I feel like everything else stops," she said. The militia no longer holds authority in Tarhouna.

At another table in the restaurant, politics student Dibaj Trabelsi said she only got two hours of power a day at home in the Salah al-Din district, making it impossible to study in hot summer weather. Interim prime minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah leads a Tripoli-based administration while former interior minister Fathi Bashagha draws support from the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar. "It affects my education," she said. Since Friday's protests, Libya's rival factions have accused each other of ultimate responsibility for the crisis and promised to work to improve the situation. Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui told AFP that"for more than a year, the overwhelming majority of diplomatic and mediation efforts around Libya have been monopolised by the idea of elections, which won't happen for at least two years, given the failure of the Geneva negotiations. It also urges them to establish a special tribunal to prosecute international crimes. "They promise us electricity every year. And there is nothing," said Hussam bin Zaytoun, the owner of the Four Seasons restaurant. 'Fragile situation' Libya's energy sector, which during the Kadhafi era financed a generous welfare state, has also fallen victim to political divisions, with a wave of forced closures of oil facilities since April.

(Additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfali, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean) Article type: free . A resolution is currently before the Geneva-based council to keep investigations going for another nine months, which is less than some had hoped for.