* Appointment of premier fuels dissent in oil-rich east
* Rebels say businessman Maiteeq is illegitimate leader
* Struggle over ports part of wider turmoil in Libya
By Ulf Laessing and Ahmed Elumami
TRIPOLI, May 8 A Libyan government deal to
reopen major oil ports controlled by rebels looks likely to
unravel as the appointment of a new Islamist-backed prime
minister fuels distrust that is eroding support for the accord.
Ahmed Maiteeq, a hotel entrepreneur in his 40s little known
abroad, took office on Sunday as Libya's third premier in just
two months after a chaotic parliamentary vote. His government
pledged on Thursday to uphold the deal on the ports.
The questionable voting procedure and a lack of broad
support for Maiteeq - lawmakers took a month to pick him from
seven candidates - highlight his weakness and will encourage
Libya's fractured political groups to oppose him, analysts say.
This will complicate efforts to persuade the rebels holding
two vital eastern ports to reopen them and makes it unlikely
crude output will return to 1.4 million barrels per day seen
before a wave of protests at oil facilities started last summer.
Separate protest groups without clear leadership are also
blocking western oilfields and pipelines.
"Maiteeq is not as strong a consensus candidate as former
prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni was," said Riccardo Fabiani,
North Africa analyst at Eurasia, a political risk agency.
"Lacking Thinni's history of negotiations success, Maiteeq
is unlikely to make any significant progress in the upcoming
discussion round between the central authorities and the
federalist rebels," Fabiani added.
The eastern rebels lost no time in rejecting Maiteeq as
illegitimate, effectively suspending talks to reopen the Ras
Lanuf and Es Sider terminals as agreed with Thinni's government
last month. The premier later resigned.
Libya has lacked a strong leader since the overthrow of
veteran strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 by a NATO-backed
uprising of diverse rebel groups including Islamists such as the
The oil port standoff exposes the inability of the new
authorities to impose their authority, with a national army
still in training and complex political rivalries undermining
the government's attempts to build legitimacy.
Maiteeq comes from the western port city of Misrata, home to
a vibrant business community. Formally independent, he has the
support of the Muslim Brothers, who are strong in Misrata.
His appointment struck a raw nerve in the east, which has
complained for decades of neglect under Gaddafi. The west boasts
better roads and hospitals and thanks to relatively good
security has also secured more foreign investment.
"We are totally against Maiteeq's appointment," said Osama
al-Khadari, an activist in Benghazi, the main eastern city where
many oppose the Muslim Brothers. "We plan to hold protests and
urge (the rebels) not to open the oil ports."
A month ago, the rebels handed back to the government two
ports, Hariga and Zueitina, which have resumed oil exports.
The larger Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals stay shut and
rebel leaders accuse Tripoli of reneging on an agreement to put
their fighters back onto a state oil protection force payroll.
Diplomats said some lawmakers were opposed to the port deal
and parliament has not formally lifted its threat of a military
offensive despite a government promise. That plan may be revived
if the talks collapse.
"If (port rebel leader Ibrahim) Jathran will not reopen Es
Sider and Ras Lanuf, there will be a disaster because these two
ports have a major oil production," said Sulaiman Ghajam, a
member of parliament's energy committee.
Maiteeq's perceived weakness has emboldened Jathran, an
acclaimed rebel commander in the 2011 uprising, to press demands
for more autonomy from Tripoli.
This week, he affirmed his support for a federalist state
that shares power and wealth, as under Gaddafi's predecessor
King Idris - a demand the weak central government cannot accept.
With parliamentary elections set for later this year
Maiteeq's mandate is limited to just a few months, further
dampening any hopes for an early breakthrough in the oil talks.
Maiteeq has tried to win over sceptics by stressing his
business credentials and his non-party background.
Asma Sariba, a lawmaker from Beida in the east, said his
stated aim of forming a broad government comprising all forces
was a positive gesture, but she cautioned: "It is easy to say
something but in fact Libya now needs serious action."
(additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi; Writing
by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones)