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Protesters shut Libya's El Sharara oilfield in setback for government

Source: Reuters - Sat, 22 Feb 2014 18:51 GMT
Author: Reuters
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TRIPOLI, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Libya's 340,000 barrels-per-day El Sharara oilfield has been completely shut down since Thursday night due to violent clashes with protesters, the state-run National Oil Corporation said on Saturday.

The key El Sharara field located in the remote south has been repeatedly closed by armed groups and protesters as a way to pressure Libya's weak central government into political and financial demands.

NOC shut the field on Thursday when clashes broke out between gunmen and residents in the nearby Obari area during the election of a body to draft a new constitution for Libya, oil officials said.

Voting had been hampered by unrest in the region on Thursday, the date of the vote, oil sources said.

"NOC closed the field for security reasons," one oil industry source said.

NOC spokesman Mohammed El Harari said Libya's production was now below 200,000 bpd, adding he would be able to give a more precise figure on Sunday.

Libya's oil output was 375,000 bpd before the unrest at El Sharara, where protestors partially shut down a pipeline to the western port of Zawiya last week.

Restoring El Sharara to full production at the start of the year had been a victory for Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan as he struggled to end another protest that blockaded three eastern oil terminals since August.

Three years after the revolt that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's oil infrastructure is often targeted by protests, shutdowns and strikes by brigades of former rebels who refuse to disarm or recognize the state's authority.

The shutdowns have hit the national budget hard as oil and gas are the only source of income and major source for hard currency needed to fund essential food imports.

Production stood at around 1.4 million bpd until the middle of 2013 when the protests began to break out at the country's oilfields and ports. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ghaith Shennib and Feras Bosalum; Writing by Patrick Markey and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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