June 17, 2014 / 4:06 PM / 3 years ago

Protest in eastern Libyan oil port town Brega, airport closed

3 Min Read

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Protesters have closed an airport used by oil firms in the eastern Libyan port city of Brega over the appointment of a new head of a state oil guard force, senior members of the force and state media said on Tuesday.

It was not clear if this had any impact on the nearby Brega oil port, now mainly used to ship crude cargoes to the Zawiya refinery in western Libya and the Libyan Norwegian Fertiliser Co (LIFECO} owned by Tripoli and Norway's Yara.

The airport is part of the oil facilities complex in Brega and used by firms operating in the port and connecting oilfields to fly their workers in or out.

The North African country is struggling with turmoil as the government is unable to control militias, armed tribesmen and Islamists who help oust strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority.

Libya's oil production has fallen to less than 300,000 barrels a day due to a wave of protests at oil ports and fields, drying up vital state revenues for more than ten months.

The protest in Brega was aimed against the appointment of Ali al-Ahrash as new head of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, a force in charge of protecting oil facilities and residents, the state news agency LANA said.

The government appointed Ahrash as part of a deal with a group of rebels in the volatile east to reopen four key oil ports they have occupied for almost a year to press Tripoli into granting regional autonomy and financial benefits to their area.

The Brega protesters opposed the removal of the previous force head Idris Bukhamada, who comes from the area, Bukhamada and Ahrash told Reuters by telephone.

Ahrash said the protesters had closed only the small oil airport but Bukhamada and a port engineer, who asked not to be named, said harbor operations had been also affected.

State-run Sirte Oil, which runs oil operations in Brega, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Implementation of the oil port deal signed in April has been slow. The rebels have so far reopened only two ports, Zueitina and Hariga, but the latter has been closed again because of another protest, reflecting growing chaos in Libya.

The two bigger ports, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, have stayed shut by rebels who objected to the election of Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq in May by parliament.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the vote had been unconstitutional. Maiteeq quit as a result, which raised hopes the oil port deal would finally be implemented fully.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ayman al-Warfalli and Feras Bosalum; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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