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Libyan militias hit power plant with rockets, blackouts possible

Source: Reuters - Tue, 25 Feb 2014 04:39 PM
Author: Reuters
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By Ulf Laessing

TRIPOLI, Feb 25 (Reuters) - More than 100 rockets fired by government-payrolled rival gunmen rained down on a Libyan power plant and electrical blackouts could result this summer, the country's electricity minister said on Tuesday.

The North African country is in turmoil as militiamen and tribespeople who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi three years ago refuse to disarm.

The government has sought to co-opt militias by putting them on the payroll for the defence and interior ministries, but the recruits often still report to their local commanders.

Some are heavily armed with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns obtained from military depots during the NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

Electricity Minister Ali Mohammed Muhairiq said days of clashes between militias working for the two ministries had knocked out the power station in Sarir, in the remote south. An oilfield is located some 90 km (55 miles) away.

"This is the chaos Libya lives in," Muhairiq told reporters. "The plant was hit by dozens of rockets, by 120 rockets."

"I don't know whether we will be able to repair it before summer and (the fasting month of) Ramadan," he said.

Power demand peaks in summer due to extensive use of air conditioners, often causing outages across the OPEC oil producer.

The government had no budget to fund the repairs, which would cost up to 300 million Libyan dinars ($240 million) but parliament had approved a loan, he said, without giving details.

He also said oil facilities and power stations to supply hospitals and water to the eastern city of Benghazi had been damaged by the clashes, but gave no details.

In separate violence, gunmen entered a power station and stole equipment in Khoms, east of Tripoli, which supplies the capital and western Libya.

"I warn the gunmen against damaging it," Muhairiq said, reading out names of those he believed were behind the robbery.

BUDGET CRISIS

The plant violence comes as the government struggles with a budget crisis due to the seizure of oil ports and oilfields by armed protesters making political and financial demands.

Oil output has fallen to 230,000 barrels per day (bpd), from 1.4 million bpd in summer when the protests started. The government said on Sunday it had imposed special spending rules on several ministries because the 2014 budget had been delayed.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the government had submitted a budget proposal for six months only, hinting spending would be cut.

"This will be to cover the minimum (of expenditures)," he said.

Slashing spending risks fuelling dissent because more than half of the $55 billion budget goes on public salaries and subsidies.

($1 = 1.2415 Libyan dinars) (Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Ghaith Shennib; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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