Libyan workers abandon Mellitah complex, stop gas supplies

TRIPOLI Fri Nov 15, 2013 8:03am EST

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TRIPOLI Nov 15 (Reuters) - Workers have abandoned a Libyan oil port and shut off gas supplies needed for local power generation after the site was seized by protesters demanding more political rights, the state National Oil Corp (NOC) and strikers said.

Two weeks ago, members of the Amazigh, or Berber, minority, seized the Mellitah complex, operated by NOC and Italy's ENI .

The protesters had said they would occasionally allow tankers to load condensates to avoid running port tanks at full capacity, which would risk a shutdown of the oil and gas complex.

But NOC spokesman Mohammed al-Harari said gas supplies for local power plants had stopped from Mellitah on Thursday at 7 pm after workers left the plant, located 100 km west of Tripoli.

"The Mellitah complex is closed. All the workers there are not able to work or not coming to work in this environment," he said. "Everything is shut down."

On Wednesday, NOC said it had slashed production at the 130,000 barrels-a-day El Feel field to 18,000 bpd, because tanks were running full at the connecting Mellitah port.

Harari was unable to give a production update on Friday, which is a weekend day in Libya.

A spokesman for the protesters camping out at the port confirmed that workers had left the complex but blamed Mellitah and NOC staff for the escalation.

"We told them they can continue producing gas for local consumption, but they decided to shut it down and leave the complex," he said. "We also gave them a letter that tankers can load condensates, but they decided to escalate this."

On Thursday, Libya's public power company urged authorities to take urgent measures to end what it called a crisis after gas supplies were cut from Mellitah.

The Amazigh are demanding that their language rights be guaranteed by the constitution, adding to the challenges faced by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who also faces opposition from Islamists in parliament.

Libya's government is struggling to cope with protesters who have taken over eastern oil ports and a western terminal to bolster demands for more rights or better conditions.

Oil exports are at a fraction of levels earlier this year of more than 1 million barrels per day. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Jane Baird)

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