Libya oil workers press port strikers to reopen Ras Lanuf

Thu Nov 28, 2013 11:37am EST

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TRIPOLI, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Libyan oil workers are negotiating with armed protesters blocking oil terminals in the east to reopen the second-largest port as popular frustration grows against militias controlling parts of the country.

A regional autonomy movement, tribes and former militia fighters campaigning for political rights and a greater share of Libya's oil wealth have seized oil ports and fields in the east, blocking most exports and drying up the state budget.

Libya's government has so far failed to negotiate an end to the port strikes, adding to worries the OPEC country is sliding into anarchy two years after the NATO-led uprising ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

The head of the oil worker's union at Ras Lanuf Oil and Gas Processing Co met autonomy leader Ibrahim Jathran on Wednesday to ask him to reopen Ras Lanuf port, said Saad Fakhri, deputy head of Libya's oil workers union.

"Jathran told him: 'I will reopen Ras Lanuf'", Fakhri told Reuters.

Jathran and aides could not be immediately reached for comment at his base in Ajdabiya in Libya's east.

The oil workers union's attempts to end the port blockage came after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on Wednesday the government would be unable to pay salaries if strikes continue as oil revenues had fallen to 20 percent their usual.

Analysts estimate oil exports are down to a fifth of the more than 1 million barrels per day Libya used to export until summer when the protests began.

Fakhri also said staff at the Ras Lanuf and Arabian Gulf Co, two units of state National Oil Corp (NOC), would meet on Thursday "to find solution for the problem of the strikes and resume oil exports."

Jathran, a former rebel leader from the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi, has escalated tensions with Tripoli by threatening to sell the country's crude independently of the central government.

But market traders say it would be very difficult to find buyers for crude belonging legally to Libya's government which has warned it would stop any tanker trying to load oil at ports seized by the protesters.

Western powers are increasingly concerned Libya risks falling into wide scale chaos with Zeidan's government struggling to control militias who helped oust Gaddafi, but have kept their weapons in a security challenge the state. (Reporting by Ghaith Shennib; writing by Ulf Laessing; editing by Patrick Markey and James Jukwey)

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