Middle East

Gunmen assassinate Libya's deputy industry minister

A batch of former rebels who have joined the ranks of the Libyan army, board a plane in the capital Tripoli, heading to Italy on January 9, 2014, to receive training under a plan to rebuild the Libyan army. AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD TURKIA

TRIPOLI: Gunmen killed Libya's deputy industry minister as he drove home from a shopping trip in the city of Sirte late on Saturday, in an attack officials blamed on hardline Islamist militants.

Libya is still plagued by violence and assassinations more than two years after civil war ousted Muammar Gaddafi. Militants, militias and former rebels often resort to force to impose demands on the fragile government.

The minister, Hassan al-Drowi, was shot several times, a senior security official said, asking not to be identified.

"They opened fire from another car while he was driving, he was shot multiple times," the official said.

"Later, they found explosives attached to his car. The theory is, the bomb failed, so they shot him instead."

The official blamed Islamist militants who have been trying to extend their influence in the coastal city of Sirte, which has been more stable recently than the capital Tripoli or the major eastern city of Benghazi.

Sirte was the last bastion of Gaddafi loyalists in the war, and he was killed there on Oct. 20, 2011.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's central government, weakened by infighting and with only nascent armed forces, is struggling to wrest control back from areas where militias are still dominant.

Libya's General National Congress and its members have not completed key parts of the country's transition to democracy, with secular parties and Islamists deadlocked over the way ahead.

The new constitution is unfinished, and militias who once helped fight Gaddafi have refused to disarm, claiming the central government is too weak to provide security and stability.

In Benghazi, the armed forces have been fighting to limit the influence of Ansar al-Sharia, a hardline Islamist group Washington last week designated a terrorist organisation.

Armed protesters control key oil terminal ports in the east of the country, demanding more political autonomy and a greater share of the OPEC country's petroleum wealth.

Last week, authorities said the navy had opened fire to turn away a tanker that had approached to illegally load crude at one of the ports in the hands of the protesters, in what the government said was a attempt to bypass its control. 

Protests at three eastern ports, which usually account for around 600,000 bpd of oil exports, have slashed Libya's oil shipments. Exports stood at 1.4 million barrels per day last summer.

Since protests over the western El-Sharara oilfield ended this month, total crude production has climbed back to around 650,000 bpd, with 510,000 bpd exported and the rest feeding two Libyan refineries, Libya's oil minister said last week. 

A spokesman for the state-run National Oil Corp. said current production at El-Sharara was at 328,000 bpd, with around 35,000 bpd still off-line because 22 of the field's wells still faced technical problems due to the protests there.





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