Eastern Libyan protesters enter Zueitina oil port, announce its closure

 Eastern Libyan protesters enter Zueitina oil port, announce its closure

By Ayman al-Warfali

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Protesters in eastern Libya entered the Zueitina oil terminal on Friday and announced its closure in response to calls by tribal leaders, a port engineer and witnesses told Reuters.

The tribal leaders are from eastern and southern Libya, areas controlled by military commander Khalifa Haftar, who will come under pressure to end his campaign to take the capital Tripoli at an international summit in Berlin this weekend.

The state oil company, NOC, said the country's oil and gas industry should not be used as a "card for political bargaining".

However, the Zueitina engineer said "the terminal is still receiving oil and a tanker entered it today". Reuters could not verify whether exports had been halted and NOC was not immediately available for comment.

The tribal leaders on Thursday called for oil terminals to be shut and accused the internationally recognised government in Tripoli of using oil revenue to pay foreign fighters.

Scores of protesters erected a large tent outside the Zueitina terminal. They read a statement saying they planned to shut all oil terminals in eastern Libya.

Port engineers in the other three eastern terminals - Brega, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider - told Reuters that the ports were still open and receiving oil.

Zueitina usually loads around 14 oil tankers per month and also receives gas tankers, the port engineer said.

NOC warned against closing terminals.

"The oil and gas sector is the lifeblood of the Libyan economy ... they should not be used as a card for political bargaining," NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a statement.

"Shutting production and export of oil will have serious and easily predictable consequences for the Libyan economy," he added.

Eastern Libya and part of the south are controlled by Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA), which has been trying to take Tripoli, home to the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord.

Haftar and the Tripoli premier Fayez al-Serraj plus their foreign backers are expected to meet in Berlin on Sunday, when Germany and the United Nations will push the rival camps to agree a truce.

Turkey has sent soldiers and foreign fighters to help Tripoli fend off the LNA, which is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russian mercenaries.

The Tripoli-based NOC has sought to stay out of the conflict but faces pressure from the LNA, which controls most oil ports. NOC channels oil and gas revenues through the central bank, which mainly works with the Tripoli government though it also pays some public servants in the east.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, and Alaa Swilam; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Ulf Laessing, Kevin Liffey, William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2020 05:10:25 IST