TRIPOLI Jan 19 Libya plans to remove protesters
who have seized eastern ports vital for lucrative oil exports
within the next few days, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on
But he did not say whether force would be used, telling
Libya's al-Ahrar news channel that he did not want the country
to plunge into civil war.
Since the summer, a group of heavily-armed demonstrators has
occupied three eastern oil ports which together accounted for
600,000 barrels per day of exports, in a bid to force the
Tripoli government to give it political autonomy.
"In the next days we're about to clear the ports of the
protesters unless they leave them," Zeidan said.
He added that tribal leaders were still holding talks to try
to end the standoff peacefully. When pressed for details he
replied: "I cannot discuss state affairs on television."
Tribal chiefs have so far failed to persuade the group's
leader Ibrahim Jathran to end the siege of the ports, which has
contributed to a halving of oil production since August, when
the protests began, and put a huge strain on the budget.
The government has warned it will be unable to pay public
salaries if the demonstrations continue. Several deadlines set
by Zeidan have passed without any action.
Authorities are struggling to rein in militias and tribesmen
who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in
Zeidan accused the Muslim Brotherhood and another Islamist
group in the General National Congress (GNC) assembly of trying
to topple his cabinet by pursuing a parliamentary non-confidence
vote against him.
On Tuesday, former militiamen briefly stormed the GNC
building and fired shots in the air to try to force a
non-confidence vote against Zeidan.
Libya's transition to democracy has been paralyzed by
infighting between the government and rival factions inside the
GNC, but even Zeidan's opponents agree there is no one to
replace him for now.
When asked whether he was worried he might lose a
confidence vote, Zeidan said: "I would be happy if the vote went
through. I don't cling to power."
Zeidan also said the security situation in the restive south
had calmed after days of fighting between rival militias in the
main city of Sabha, which the government has blamed on Gaddafi
Libyan war planes attacked targets to regain control of an
air base near Sabha, the defence ministry said on Saturday.
"There is no fighting any more," Zeidan said. "The air base
is under government control."
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Ghaith Shennib; Editing by Mike