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Libya threatens to bomb North Korean tanker if it ships oil from rebel port

LIBYA-OIL-PROTEST

(Reuters) - Libya threatened on Saturday to bomb a North Korean-flagged tanker if it tried to ship oil from a rebel-controlled port, in a major escalation of a standoff over the country's petroleum wealth.

The rebels, who have seized three major Libyan ports since August to press their demands for more autonomy, warned Tripoli against staging an attack to halt the oil sale after the tanker docked at Es Sider export terminal, one of the country's biggest.

The oil dispute is just one facet of the deepening turmoil in the North African OPEC member, where the government is struggling to control militias who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept their weapons and now challenge state authority.

A local television station controlled by protesters showed footage of pro-autonomy rebels holding a lengthy ceremony and slaughtering a camel to celebrate their first oil shipment. In the distance stood a tanker.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan appeared hours later on television to warn the tanker's crew. "The tanker will be bombed if it doesn't follow orders when leaving (the port). This will be an environmental disaster," Zeidan said.

"They are now trying to load oil," he said, denouncing it as a criminal act. Authorities have ordered the arrest of the tanker's crew.

There was no immediate sign of the country's armed forces moving towards the port. Analysts say the military, still in training, would struggle to overcome rebels battle-hardened from the eight-month uprising against Gaddafi.

Zeidan acknowledged the army had failed to implement his orders last week to stop the protesters sending reinforcements from their base in Ajdabiyah, west of the regional capital Benghazi, to Es Sider.

"Nothing was done," Zeidan said, adding that political opponents in parliament were obstructing his government. He said North Korea had asked the ship's captain to sail away from the port but armed protesters had prevented that.

Abb-Rabbo Albarassi, the eastern autonomy movement's self-declared prime minister, said Zeidan's government had failed to meet its demands to share oil wealth, investigate oil corruption and to grant the regional autonomy.

"We tried to reach a deal with the government, but they and parliament ... were too busy with themselves and didn't even discuss our demands," he told the televised ceremony.

"If anyone attacks, we will respond to that."

A successful independent oil shipment would be a blow to the government. Tripoli had said earlier it would destroy tankers trying to buy oil from Ibrahim Jathran, a former anti-Gaddafi rebel who seized the port and two others with thousands of his men in August.

Jathran, who was seen attending the televised ceremony, had commanded a brigade of former rebels paid by the state to protect petroleum facilities. He defected with his troops, however, to take over the ports.

In January, the Libyan navy fired on a Maltese-flagged tanker which it said had tried to load oil from the protesters in Es Sider.

The North Korean-flagged Morning Glory, which was previously flagged in Liberia, had been circling off the Libyan coast for days. It tried to dock at Es Sider on Tuesday, when port workers still loyal to the central government told the crew to turn back.

Storage tanks at Es Sider and other seized ports are full, according to oil sources.

It is extremely unusual for an oil tanker flagged in secretive North Korea to operate in the Mediterranean, shipping sources said.

A spokesman for state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) said the Morning Glory was owned by a Saudi company. It had changed ownership in the past few weeks and previously been called Gulf Glory, according to a shipping source.

The Saudi embassy in Tripoli said in a statement that the kingdom's government had nothing to do with the tanker, without saying who owned it.

PROTESTS

Western powers worry Libya will slide into deeper instability or even break apart as the government, paralyzed by political battles in parliament, struggles to assert control of a vast country awash with arms and militias.

At a Libya conference this week in Rome, Western countries voiced concern that tensions in Libya could slip out of control in the absence of a functioning political system, and urged the government and rival factions to start talking.

Libya's government has tried to end a wave of protests at oil ports and fields across the vast desert state that have slashed oil output, the country's lifeline, to 230,000 barrels per day (bpd), from 1.4 million bpd in July.

Tripoli has held indirect talks with Jathran but his demand for a greater share of oil revenues for the east, like the region had under Gaddafi's predecessor King Idris, is sensitive for a government that worries this might lead to secession.

Jathran has teamed up with another set of protesters blocking oil exports at the 110,000-bpd Hariga port in Tobruk, also located in the east.

Libya's defense minister held talks this week with protesters blocking the 340,000-bpd El Sharara oilfield in the south but there is no word on whether it will reopen soon.

The protesters, from a tribal minority, want national identity cards and a local council, demands the minister has promised to study.

(Additional reporting by Ghaith Shennib and Ayman al-Warfalli; Editing by Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche)

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fox12ga March 08 2014 at 8:12 PM

Good let them blow each other to hell No one will miss either of them

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1 reply
dad fox12ga March 08 2014 at 8:35 PM

Oh but you are wrong, mark my words, this country will and is already missing Gaddaffi, don't think so, continue to watch the grain market on the world stage and remember what Gaddaffi was doing, if you don't know find out the truth.

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madlyfem March 08 2014 at 10:25 PM

Creating a working government out of nothing is very hard. It is too bad that Western governments were unable to offer their help to do this. When South Africa was drafting its Constitution and laws, lawyers from Western countries were asked to come help do just that. My lawyer was one of those asked to come help.

Had we not created two wars in the Middle East, no doubt we would have been asked to help create a constitution and a set of laws to govern the new Libya. I hope the central government will agree to talk to these rebels to set up a fair way to govern a two part country, giving the oil rich but less populated the kind of say they should have, and the more populated, but oil poor side its say. Might should not make right, and the current government has to learn that, IF it wants to keep Libya in one piece. With the oil, the rebels can always buy fighters if they need them.

Keeping our big muddy boots out of Libya should win us some favor with the Libyans. If each side will talk to the other, maybe they will let us make some suggestions. I'd say Obama did Libya just right.

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1 reply
mark and sheri madlyfem March 09 2014 at 3:15 AM

Sorry, we tried to explain Democracy, Women's Rights in Iraq and Afghanistan. They did not want it before 9/11, they apparently don't want it now. They kicked the West out of the Oil Fields created by Western Technology because the DO NOT like Non Believers. No way they will ask Western Lawyers for help, the warfare has nothing to do with it. It is called wanting Islamic Law as the basis of your society. Nice try blaming us.

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runswthscisors40 March 08 2014 at 10:27 PM

In other news, oil prices skyrocket.................

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Jose Luis March 08 2014 at 10:48 PM

Obama should not get into that mess they should get it straight themselves.

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Robert March 08 2014 at 10:49 PM

Everyone better look out, Obama is dumb enough to side with North korea. The US well wind up in the middle of this and neather one of those countries is worth our help.

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retirednavyinhi March 08 2014 at 10:50 PM

Brought to you by BHO.............

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jrp1947 March 08 2014 at 10:50 PM

sounds like we have the making of a second world war cold war again with russia grabbing land and people, libya breaking apart in regional conflicts, north korea pushing the limits with missile tests, and so on and so on. Every day we get a new military crisis someplace in the world and Obama wants us to give up our guns as he downsizes our military and tries to prevent citizens from having weapons to defend themselves. When the military fails us the only ones left to defend the families will be the families. Everyone knows wher the world is going in a handbasket unless we take back control locally, then state wide and finally nationally.

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dwdays March 08 2014 at 11:26 PM

This should be very interesting. Two countries with big mouths, no concern for life and no "UN pressure" disallowing them from using anything more than sling-shots. Couldn't happen to two nicer guys. Going to be fun to watch.

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genefmllr March 08 2014 at 11:39 PM

Where are the Obama mercenaries? Can't they support the Libyans like they did before? Maybe they are too busy in Syria.

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Rick March 08 2014 at 11:48 PM

what are they going to do, throw mud pies at each other... screw them... but if one drop of oil hits the water the U.S. will bomb the **** out of both of them... here we go again

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