Political protesters seek halt to Libyan gas exports to Italy

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2013 10:45 AM
Political protesters seek halt to Libyan gas exports to Italy

MILAN/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan demonstrators encamped at a gas terminal in the west of the country are demanding a halt to gas exports to Italy, co-operator Eni said, raising the stakes in their protest for greater political rights.

The protesters from the minority Amazigh, or Berber, ethnic group have been inside the port for more than a week.

"The Mellitah terminal... is under attack by demonstrators who are pushing us to completely halt exports to Italy," Eni Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni told Italy's Rai Radio 1 on Wednesday.

Mellitah is co-owned by Eni and Libya's state-oil firm National Oil Corp (NOC) and the Italian firm is the biggest foreign oil and gas operator in Libya.

Oil sources have told Reuters that oil exports from Mellitah were suspended last week, though Eni has disputed this.

An oil official said protesters might close the gas pipeline feeding the port.

Data from Italian gas grid operator Snam showed that flows through the gas pipeline, called Greenstream, were at 12.7 million cubic meters, meeting the volume requested by buyers on Wednesday.

WEAK GOVERNMENT

Libya's weak central government has failed to control feuding armed groups or resolve political conflicts that are obstructing post-war reconstruction and efforts to build state institutions following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The Amazigh protesters are demanding a bigger say in a committee to be elected to draft Libya's new constitution.

Munir Abu Saud, head of the oil workers' union in Mellitah, said tensions in the terminal had risen after an initial deadline by the protesters expired on Tuesday without their demands having been met.

"People are angry. There are negotiations to extend the deadline again to Sunday," he told Reuters.

The Makronissos oil tanker loaded at the terminal last week and the Valtamed has sailed to the port from Malta to load some more oil, traders said and Reuters AIS Live ship tracking showed.

Crude oil exports from the Zawiya crude oil terminal are still suspended due to the halt in production from the El Sharara oilfield and at least one trader has cancelled a tanker, which was waiting outside the port to reduce demurrage exposure.

(Reporting by Valentina Consiglio and Stephen Jewkes in Milan and Ghaith Shennib in Tripoli, additional reporting by Julia Payne; writing by Stephen Jewkes and Ulf Laessing; editing by Jason Neely and John Stonestreet)