News24

Libya's eastern leader 'ready for talks'

2012-03-09 14:14

Benghazi - The head of a regional council seeking to carve out an autonomous territory in oil-rich east Libya said late on Thursday that he accepted the interim national leader's call for dialogue.

"We accept the National Transitional Council's dialogue invitation," Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi told journalists in the eastern city of Benghazi.

At a conference in Benghazi on Tuesday that was attended by thousands, tribal and political leaders unilaterally declared the region of Cyrenaica (Berqa in Arabic) autonomous, prompting fears that the country might split up.

Senussi was appointed chairperson of the region's newly-formed governing council.

Libya's leader Mustapha Abdel Jalil on Wednesday threatened to use force if necessary to preserve national unity, but he later clarified in remarks to pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera that he had not meant military force.

"What I meant was not military force but the power of the law," Abdel Jalil said.

Senussi said the regional council accepted "the apology issued by Mustafa Abdel Jalil for the remarks he made in Misrata", in apparent reference to the statements carried by the Qatar-based channel.

He added that the national leadership must engage with the call for federalism rather than dismissing it as a treasonous act, one day after Abdel Jalil warned that the federalist camp was infiltrated by remnants of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Protect the country

"We consider the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people but we see the 1951 constitution as the legitimate constitution for Libya," Senussi said.

Libya was a federal union from 1951 to 1963 during the monarchy of Idris Senussi, which split the country into three states - Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.

A spokesperson for the Arabian Gulf Oil Company, in Benghazi, said the state-run company was staying out of the fray and following the leadership of the Tripoli-based NTC.

And a military spokesperson also told AFP that the national army was staying "out of politics" and that its chief duty was to "protect the country and its resources".

An estimated three-quarter of Libya's oil is concentrated in the proposed autonomous region.