Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaks during a Feb. 3 press conference in Tripoli. Zeidan said he ordered the army to lift the blockade imposed by protesters on the main oil terminals in the east of the country. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP)
TRIPOLI — Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said Monday he had ordered the army to lift the blockade imposed by protesters on the main oil terminals in the east of the country.
Since last July, security guards at key oil terminals in eastern Libya — many of them former rebels who helped overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 — have blockaded exports, hitting government revenues.
“I asked the defense minister to give the order to the army chief of staff to head for the oil ports,” Zeidan said at a press conference in Tripoli.
He said he had given the order two weeks ago, without giving further details about the nature or date of any military operation.
Protesters at the eastern oil ports are demanding a restoration of the autonomy the eastern region of Cyrenaica was granted in the first decade after Libya’s independence in 1951.
They have also accused the authorities of corruption and are demanding a more equitable distribution of oil revenues.
Zeidan has threatened to break their blockade with force in the past, but has refrained from taking action, and has repeatedly said he will not negotiate with protesters.
Libya’s vital oil revenues fell far short of expectations in 2013, reaching just $40 billion after protesters shut down production at key sites in the east of the country.
The crisis saw production plunge to about 250,000 barrels per day from nearly 1.5 million bpd before the crisis. After the blockade of an oilfield in the south was lifted, output rose again to 600,000 bpd.
He also said at the press conference he had presented the country’s highest political authority, the General National Congress, with a list of ministers as part of a cabinet reshuffle.
The Islamist Justice and Construction Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, withdrew its five ministers from the government last month, demanding Zeidan’s resignation.
Their resignations came after an attempt to pass a censure motion against Zeidan, proposed by 99 lawmakers, most of whom were Islamists.
But they failed to clinch the required 120 votes in the 194-member GNC.