Blackout hits western and southern Libya

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Western Libya was plunged into darkness late on Saturday as a blackout already affecting the south spread to the capital, Tripoli, and other major cities, the national power company said.

The blackout extended from Libya’s western border with Tunisia to the city of Ajdabiya, nearly 900 km (560 miles) to the east, national power company GECOL said in a statement.

The electricity grid had collapsed because a number of cities in western Libya had rejected terms for sharing out power cuts, it said.

It was the first time in recent memory that the whole of the western region, where most of Libya’s 6.3 million inhabitants live, had its power cut.

Tripoli and other cities in the west and south have been plagued by repeated and lengthy power cuts for months, and the south has been suffering a general blackout for at least the past four days.

GECOL did not mention the closure nearly a week ago of a gas pipeline in Zawiya, but it had earlier warned that the stoppage could trigger a general blackout if diesel fuel temporarily supplying the western city’s power plant ran out.

A Reuters reporter said that on Saturday evening the only lights visible in Tripoli were in the central Martyrs’ Square, and that all petrol stations had closed.

The persistent power cuts in Tripoli have left some residents resorting to charcoal during unusually cold winter weather. Mains water supplies to the capital have also been cut for several days.

Officials have previously blamed the power cuts on technical problems, damage from Libya’s low-intensity military conflict, sabotage, and distortions to electricity supply caused by armed groups diverting scarce power to their own neighborhoods.

The power cuts have contributed to the fragility of a U.N.-backed government that arrived in Tripoli last March but has failed to unite rival factions or halt a slide in living standards.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Hani Amara; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by James Dalgleish