Two years after local militias overthrew the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, many of those same fighters have brought Libya’s critical oil industry to a halt, as a challenge to the latest in a series of that country’s interim governments.
Protests and strikes at several large export terminals and oil fields have throttled Libya’s daily oil production to one-tenth its capacity in recent days, jeopardizing the national economy and tightening world oil supplies at a time when unrest is spreading in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan announced Wednesday that his government had issued arrest warrants for the strike leaders, setting up a potentially critical showdown.
“I won’t let anyone hold Libya and its resources hostage to these groups for long,” Zeidan told reporters in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, as he announced the arrest warrants. But oil and political analysts expressed doubt that he could enforce his threat since the national military and police forces remain largely impotent.
The crisis began last month when armed groups seized the country’s major oil export terminals, alleging that the national oil company had engaged in corrupt sales. They also demanded autonomy for the eastern region where the rebellion against the Gadhafi government had been strongest. The protests have since moved west, carried out mainly by guards of several oil fields and pipelines seeking higher payments from the government.