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Protests flare in Libya's Benghazi over power cuts, living conditions

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Scores of people protested in Benghazi on Thursday over power cuts and living conditions, witnesses said, burning tyres and blocking some roads in an unusual public show of dissent in the eastern Libyan city.

Benghazi is the base of Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), which is fighting in a civil war against the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli, in the country’s west.

Electricity supply has deteriorated this year, leading to protests last month in Tripoli and adding to poor living standards amid a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus.

The most immediate cause of the worsening power supply is a lack of fuel for electricity plants. The LNA has accused the Tripoli-based National Oil Corp (NOC) of not importing enough fuel to operate the plants.

The NOC last month warned of worse blackouts in eastern Libya, saying the shortage was caused by the LNA’s months-long blockade of oil and gas facilities. It said imports of diesel to operate the plants were causing it “severe financial difficulties”.

The NOC has appealed for the LNA to end the blockade, which began in January and has drastically cut production, leading to a near total eclipse of energy revenue - Libya’s main source of foreign currency - this year.

The LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt. The GNA is supported by Turkey.

Earlier on Thursday, the European Union said its naval mission in the Mediterranean had stopped a ship heading from the UAE to Benghazi carrying jet fuel on suspicion of breaking an arms embargo.

Peacemaking efforts in Libya have accelerated since a major bout of warfare earlier this year ended in June with the frontlines solidifying near the city of Sirte.

Members of the two sides’ rival parliamentary assemblies have been meeting this week in Morocco and said on Thursday they had agreed criteria for appointing senior figures in sovereign institutions, representing a step forward in the talks.

Reporting By Ayman al-Warfali in Benghazi, writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Grant McCool