Thousands of Libyans protested on Friday against a move by leaders in the oil-rich eastern part of the country to create a self-ruled region.
The protests came days after representatives of major tribes and militia commanders in the east announced Barqa state as a semi-autonomous region. They said their decision was not intended to divide the country, only to end years of discrimination against the east under ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
But many Libyans are worried that by creating these autonomous or semi-autonomous regions where local leaders hold sway it will eventually lead to the disintegration of the country.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, protesters denounced the move as a call for separation.
"Shame on you for dividing Libya by your own hands," demonstrators chanted in the city center. They waved Libyan flags and banners carrying the logo of Libya's main Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group issued a statement rejecting the move and warning of fragmentation.
A prominent Muslim cleric who is one of the Brotherhood' most influential clerics denounced the self-rule announcement during a Friday sermon in Qatar where he's based.
"This is not permissible to split the country ... Libya must remain one country," said Sheik Youssef el-Qaradawi.
During Tuesday's gathering, leader behind the autonomy push named Benghazi as the capital of the Barqa state. Barqa includes nearly half the country, from the center to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south. However the protests Friday demonstrated that not everyone within the region supports the push for self-rule.
In Tripoli, hundreds of protesters rallied against the autonomy push, chanting, "With blood and soul we redeem you Benghazi."