TRIPOLI Libya's attorney general has issued arrest warrants for the leaders of oil strikers, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on Wednesday, adding he would act soon against the protesters.
Zeidan hinted at military action which many Libyans have warned could spark wider unrest in a country riven by tribal and regional divisions, if the crippling oil output stoppages do not end soon.
"I am not threatening, but I won't let anyone hold Libya and its resources hostage to irresponsible acts of these groups for long," Zeidan told reporters.
"These people must calculate what they are doing, so when action takes place everyone will understand why but I hope we won't be forced to do something that we don't want," he added.
Industry executives say the disruptions and stoppages in the west of the country are instigated mainly by the powerful Zintan tribe, a major rebel group that has become very influential within government-financed army units and could be flexing its muscles for a bigger political role.
"The Zintans are bargaining for higher allowances and a bigger role in guarding the oil installations," one oil executive in touch with senior officials negotiating with the tribe said, on condition of anonymity.
They have shut last month the two major oilfields in the south, El Feel and Esshara, disrupting at least 500,000 barrels per day of production or nearly a third of Libya's pre-crisis production levels of around 1.5 million bpd.
In the coastal east, where protesters from the oil sector are disrupting oil terminals, demands beyond more pay extend to broader political demands tied to a bigger share of the oil wealth and more self-government for the main oil producing areas.
Hardliners among the federalists have even raised their demands this week with calls for an independent national state oil firm in charge of exports, they said.
Libyan oil production was now averaging between 200,000 to 300,000 bpd, Zeidan said.
He also said he was awaiting recommendations by a fact finding mission conducted by a 13 member crisis committee that was set up by the legislature to find a way out of the crisis.
The committee, headed by Abdul Wahab al-Qayed, told parliamentarians late on Tuesday they still had not arrived at a deal with protestors, but won the approval of the General National Council (GNC) for another week's extension to conclude their task.
Finance Minister Alkilani Abdelkarim al-Jazi told reporters his ministry had calculated the oil stoppage was depriving Libya of at least $130 million daily in lost revenue.
Jazi said a prolonged crisis could in the next few months force Libya to draw on substantial foreign reserves but he did not foresee any problems in meeting financial obligations, including salaries, at least until the end of the year.
(Editing by William Hardy)