Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil charged on Tuesday that some Arab nations were supporting and financing sedition in eastern Libya, hours after tribal and militia leaders declared autonomy for the region.
“Some sister Arab nations unfortunately are supporting and financing this sedition that is happening in the east,” Abdel Jalil told reporters at a press conference in Tripoli, without naming names.
“Their fear made these sister nations unfortunately support this so that the revolution does not spread to their countries,” he said.
“What is happening today is the start of a conspiracy against the country ... This is a very dangerous matter that threatens national unity,” Abdel Jalil warned.
A self-declared congress representing Cyrenaica, the eastern half of Libya and home to most of its oil, said it was setting up a council which would administer the province’s affairs, in defiance of the central government in Tripoli.
The announcement raised fears the country may break up in the wake of Muammar Qaddafi’s downfall last autumn.
The conference in Benghazi, which was the cradle of an eight-month uprising against Qaddafi that ended in his capture and killing, also called for a return to federalism in Libya.
“The interim council of Cyrenaica was established under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi to manage the region’s affairs and defend the rights of its population,” read a statement following the meeting.
The new body will work within the framework of Libya’s interim government, which it considers to be “the symbol of the country’s unity, and its legitimate representative in international forums,” the statement said.
Senussi, who was elected leader of the region, is a member of the ruling National Transitional Council.
“A federal system is the choice of the region” of Cyrenaica, which stretches from the central coastal city of Sirte to the Egyptian border in the east, the leaders said in their joint statement.
The proponents of autonomy say the move derives its legitimacy from the 1951 constitution, which was adopted under the monarchy of King Idris and which divided Libya into three states -- Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.
Senussi is a relative of the late king and was the longest-serving political prisoner during the Qaddafi regime.
“This conference resulted in the choice of a type of government that is suitable to the Libyan people, especially in the Cyrenaica region,” said Abu Bakr Bayira, who has been spearheading the movement.
Moves towards greater autonomy for Cyrenaica -- the birth-place of the anti-Qaddafi revolt -- may worry international oil companies operating in Libya because it raises the prospect of them having to re-negotiate their contracts with a new entity.
Advocates of federalism say it will prevent the east from being marginalized as was the case in the past, while opponents fear the initiative will split the country and stand in the way of reconciliation.
Several Libyan cities, including Benghazi, have witnessed rallies rejecting the federal system of government, with banners and slogans emphasizing national unity and state-building, and stressing that Tripoli is the only capital.
Senior officials in Tripoli, including Abdel Jalil and interim Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib, have flatly rejected the federalist project, promoting a program of decentralization instead.
On Monday, Abdel Jalil told AFP that calls for the implementation of a federal system did not represent a major source of concern to his government because “Libyans fought for a united Libya.”
‘No need for federalism’
During a program called “Meet the Minister,” broadcast on state TV, Kib flatly rejected calls to fashion Libya into a federation.
“We do not need federalism because we are heading towards decentralization and we don’t want to go back 50 years,” he said without elaborating.
His address came after the interim government held an emergency session on Sunday to discuss a bill proposing the principle of decentralization.
More than 50 local councils are reviewing the project, Abdel Jalil said.
Interim Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali said the interim government saw “no reason” for federalism in Libya.
“We have no reason for federalism because Libya does not group different peoples or religions,” he said, adding that this type of government was not always successful.