* Tensions high after navy fires at oil tanker
* Eastern federalists want more autonomy, oil share
* Oil port protests have drained public finances
By Ghaith Shennib
TRIPOLI, Jan 14 Libya's Prime Minister Ali
Zeidan said the government would give mediators a chance to end
a standoff with protesters blockading eastern oil ports, seeking
a peaceful solution even after an escalation of the dispute over
Libya's navy last week fired warning shots at an oil tanker
the government said tried to load crude at one of the terminals
seized by protesters who are demanding more regional autonomy
and a greater share of oil.
Two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the port
dispute is the most serious challenge to the fragile central
government as it struggles to control former militias and
rebels, who refuse to bow to Tripoli's authority.
With Libya's leadership hamstrung by infighting and a
nascent army still in training, Zeidan's government may have
little option but to seek help from mediators in trying to
negotiate an end to the crisis.
For several months, delegations from Libya's General
National Congress parliament and from tribal leaders have
reached out to protesters but with little success.
"We are now in touch with mediators who intend to dialogue
with those occupying the ports," Zeidan said at a press
"We have two solutions: Through force or peaceful means. We
preferred the peaceful way. We have found some people who say
they can do this, and we will give them the chance."
Libya's crude production last week was at around 600,000
barrels per day, down from 1.4 million bpd, which is putting a
strain on public finances that depend almost completely on oil
Eastern oil protesters in August took over the ports of Ras
Lanuf, Es-Sider and Zueitina, which previously accounted for
600,000 bpd in exports, to demand more political autonomy for
the region and a share of Libya's crude sales.
Eastern federalists from the self-declared Cyrenaica
government promise that ships can safely dock at the ports they
control, dismissing Zeidan's warnings that tankers may be
destroyed if they try.
But even with the government's limited military resources,
experts say, protesters may struggle to find tanker operators
willing to risk entering ports to load cargoes of discounted
crude, which the government would see as an act of piracy.
Negotiations have had more success in the west and the
south, where protests ended at the major El Sharara field,
allowing its production to rise again to around 328,00 bpd,
according to the state-run National Oil Corp.
Political solutions are complicated in Libya, where the
General National Congress and its members have yet to complete
vital parts of the transition to democracy since Gaddafi's fall,
including the writing a new constitution.
The parliament is deadlocked between secular and Islamist
parties, while militias that once helped fight Gaddafi have
refused to disarm, claiming that Tripoli is too weak to
(Writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Jane Baird)