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Eastern Libyans declare autonomy

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 9:39 p.m.

TRIPOLI, Libya — The leaders of a movement for self-rule in oil-rich eastern Libya unilaterally announced on Thursday the formation of a shadow government, the latest challenge to the weakened central authority.

The announcement was made several months after the movement, backed by some militias and local tribes, declared the eastern half of Libya to be an autonomous state, named Barqa, claiming broad self-rule powers and control over resources.

The central government in Tripoli had rejected the declaration. It had no immediate comments on Thursday.

Advocates of self-rule in the east, who long have complained about discrimination by the government in the capital Tripoli, have been pushing for the reviving the system maintained under King Idris in 1951. Libya then was divided into three states, with Cyrenaica — or Barqa, as it was called in Arabic — encompassing the eastern half of the country.

Opponents fear a declaration of autonomy could be the first step toward the outright division of the country, particularly with the turmoil that struck in the aftermath of the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The tension between the central government and eastern militias and tribal leaders has already disrupted the exports of oil.

Eastern militias earlier seized control of oil exporting terminals, sending production plunging from 1.4 million barrels a day to around 600,000, robbing the country of its main revenue source.

Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, the head of the newly declared Barqa government, said the aim is to improve distribution of resources and undermine the hold of the centralized system that has discriminated against their region.

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