TRIPOLI Protests outside western Libya's main oil refinery on Wednesday could shut down operations, causing a shortage of petrol in the country's capital, the deputy oil minister said.
Omar Shakmak said that while the Zawiya Oil Refinery Co was still operational, protests by wounded war veterans demanding government compensation could cause a stoppage in fuel distribution.
"We have enough fuel stored in Tripoli to last us 25 days but the problem is that protesters are not allowing trucks in or out of the fuel storage areas of the refinery which could cause a shortage," he said.
Panicking Tripoli residents formed long queues at petrol stations to fill up their tanks on Wednesday night as they anticipated a possible gasoline shortage.
Refinery spokesman Essam al-Muntasir said that he expected the protests to end by the next day.
"Refinery operations are fully functioning for the moment but we will know more on Thursday morning," he said.
A similar demonstration in early November by the same group of wounded veterans of the war which ousted Muammar Gaddafi last year caused the refinery to shut down operations for two days and led to a shortage of fuel in gas stations in Tripoli.
The continuing refinery protests are another reminder of volatile security conditions in Libya, where a new central government has yet to control militias or meet its people's needs.
The Zawiya refinery, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, has a capacity of 120,000 barrels per day and provides 40 per cent of western Libya's oil needs.
(Additional reporting By Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Writing by Hadeel Al-Shalchi; Editing by David Gregorio)