Workers at Tripoli's decaying port go on strike

TRIPOLI Sun Jan 1, 2012 1:21pm EST

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Port workers in Libya's capital Tripoli went on strike on Sunday to demand better working conditions and government investment to fix major damage caused by war and decades of negligence.

The port, Libya's largest non-oil harbor, was damaged during the civil war that ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule. In May, NATO sank eight Libyan warships there and intercepted a fuel tanker it believed was destined for Gaddafi's military forces.

The port's decay predates the conflict, and it was held up as an example of poor management by the Gaddafi government.

Workers say the new government needs to invest millions of dollars to get the port's collapsed platforms and other facilities back into shape. Maintenance work has not been done for years, they said.

On Sunday, some 300 of the port's 1,800 workers gathered at the main gate to press their demands.

"We are not asking for extra money," said Adel al-Tomi, 43, an administrative clerk who has been working at the port for 15 years. "We want the company to take care of the port. We want our rights as workers, we want a place to hide from the cold and the heat."

The workers said they will continue to strike until they get a timeline for rebuilding the port's facilities and fixing its platforms.

Soliman bin Yased, the port's director of operations, agreed with the workers demands, but said the walkout was hurting business.

He said water supplies were cut off by a major storm in 1980 and never properly restored, while ship containers were used as offices as "the former regime removed all the buildings inside the port."

The port, managed by a state-run company, went back to near-normal business in September, a few weeks after Gaddafi was overthrown, but conditions remained dire.

"The entire place is in chaos," said security guard Yousef Mokhtar, pointing at a dozen fire extinguishers left under the rain.

(Reporting by Taha Zargoun; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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