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The Star Online: World Updates

Libya threatens to bomb North Korean tanker if it ships oil from rebel port

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 08:30 PM PST

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya threatened on Saturday to bomb a North Korean-flagged tanker if it tried to ship oil from a rebel-controlled port, in a major escalation of a standoff over the country's petroleum wealth.

The rebels, who have seized three major Libyan ports since August to press their demands for more autonomy, warned Tripoli against staging an attack to halt the oil sale after the tanker docked at Es Sider terminal, one of the country's biggest. The vessel started loading crude late at night, oil officials said.

The oil dispute is just one facet of the deepening turmoil in the North African OPEC member, where the government is struggling to control militias that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept their weapons and now challenge state authority.

A local television station controlled by protesters showed footage of pro-autonomy rebels holding a lengthy ceremony and slaughtering a camel to celebrate their first oil shipment. In the distance stood a tanker. The station said the ceremony took place in Es Sider.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan appeared on television to warn the tanker's crew. "The tanker will be bombed if it doesn't follow orders when leaving (the port). This will be an environmental disaster," Zeidan said.

"They are now trying to load oil," he said, denouncing it as a criminal act. Authorities have ordered the arrest of the tanker's crew.

There was no immediate sign of the country's armed forces moving toward the port. Analysts say the military, still in training, would struggle to overcome rebels battle-hardened from the eight-month uprising against Gaddafi.

Zeidan acknowledged the army had failed to implement his orders last week to stop the protesters sending reinforcements from their base in Ajdabiyah, west of the regional capital Benghazi, to Es Sider.

"Nothing was done," Zeidan said, adding that political opponents in parliament were obstructing his government. He said North Korea had asked the ship's captain to sail away from the port but armed protesters had prevented that.

Abb-Rabbo Albarassi, the eastern autonomy movement's self-declared prime minister, said Zeidan's government had failed to meet its demands to share oil wealth, to investigate oil corruption and to grant the regional autonomy.

"We tried to reach a deal with the government, but they and parliament ... were too busy with themselves and didn't even discuss our demands," he said at the televised ceremony.

"If anyone attacks, we will respond to that."

A successful independent oil shipment would be a blow to the government. Tripoli had said earlier it would destroy tankers trying to buy oil from Ibrahim Jathran, a former anti-Gaddafi rebel who seized the port and two others with thousands of his men in August.

Jathran, who was seen attending the televised ceremony, had commanded a brigade of former rebels paid by the state to protect petroleum facilities. He defected with his troops, however, to take over the ports.

In January, the Libyan navy fired on a Maltese-flagged tanker that it said had tried to load oil from the protesters in Es Sider.

The North Korean-flagged Morning Glory, which was previously flagged in Liberia, had been circling off the Libyan coast for days. It tried to dock at Es Sider on Tuesday, when port workers still loyal to the central government told the crew to turn back.

Storage tanks at Es Sider and other seized ports are full, according to oil sources.

It is extremely unusual for an oil tanker flagged in secretive North Korea to operate in the Mediterranean, shipping sources said.

A spokesman for state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) said the Morning Glory was owned by a Saudi company. It had changed ownership in the past few weeks and previously been called Gulf Glory, according to a shipping source.

The Saudi embassy in Tripoli said in a statement that the kingdom's government had nothing to do with the tanker, without saying who owned it.


Western powers worry Libya will slide into deeper instability or even break apart as the government, paralysed by political battles in parliament, struggles to assert control of a vast country awash with arms and militias.

At a Libya conference this week in Rome, Western countries voiced concern that tensions in Libya could slip out of control in the absence of a functioning political system, and urged the government and rival factions to start talking.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said in a series of tweets on Saturday that the only parties authorized to sell Libya's oil are the National Oil Corp and its subsidiaries and partners.

"Any purchase of oil within Libya from anyone other than those entities amounts to theft from the Libyan people," she said, adding that companies that engage in illicit trade with separatist groups in Libya risk liability in multiple jurisdictions.

Libya's government has tried to end a wave of protests at oil ports and fields across the vast desert state that have slashed oil output, the country's lifeline, to 230,000 barrels per day (bpd), from 1.4 million bpd in July.

Tripoli has held indirect talks with Jathran, who seized the port, but his demand for a greater share of oil revenues for the east, like the region had under Gaddafi's predecessor King Idris, is sensitive for a government that worries this might lead to secession.

Jathran has teamed up with another set of protesters blocking oil exports at the 110,000-bpd Hariga port in Tobruk, also located in the east.

Libya's defence minister held talks this week with protesters blocking the 340,000-bpd El Sharara oilfield in the south but there is no word on whether it will reopen soon.

The protesters, from a tribal minority, want national identity cards and a local council, demands the minister has promised to study.

(Additional reporting by Ghaith Shennib and Ayman al-Warfalli and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Patrick Markey, Andrew Roche and Lisa Shumaker)

North Korean-flagged tanker loads oil at seized Libyan port-officials

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 01:50 PM PST

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A North Korean-flagged tanker has started loading oil at a Libyan port seized by rebels in the east of the country, port and oil officials said on Saturday.

The Libyan government threatened earlier on Saturday to bomb the vessel if it tried to ship the cargo out of Es Sider port. The rebels want to sell the oil to bypass the government and get a greater share of the country's oil wealth.

"The loading has started," a port worker told Reuters. A spokesman for state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) confirmed this.

(Reporting by Feras Bosalum; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Mickey Mouse and armed men: surreal scenes on Kiev protest square

Posted: 08 Mar 2014 01:30 PM PST

KIEV (Reuters) - Two weeks after Ukraine's president was overthrown, the cradle of the uprising is a surreal place as children play alongside diehard protesters still dressed in combat gear.

Dozens of people were killed last month defending the barricades and fortified tent camp in Kiev's Independence Square, some of them shot by snipers in bloody clashes.

Their main goal was achieved when President Viktor Yanukovich fell, but hundreds of grizzled protesters are still on the square. Most have taken off their helmets and put away their flak jackets, but some still have their clubs at their side.

"We're not leaving here till all our demands have been met,"

said Andriy Gritsko on Saturday, drawing on a cigarette outside his large tent just off the main square in the heart of the Ukrainian capital.

"We're definitely not going before the presidential election, before May 25."

A comrade-in-arms, dressed in similar green and brown combat fatigues, held a thick metal rod in one hand and beat it menacingly in the palm of his other.

"This new bunch of leaders we've got are just the same as the last ones, and the ones before that. They all think like they're Soviet. We're staying put till we get what we want," he said, declining to say what that was, or to give his name.

As he spoke, a popular Soviet-era children's song blared out of a loudspeaker and parents ushered giggling toddlers onto a carousel nearby.

Someone dressed in a Mickey Mouse costume walked past, hoping to attract custom to a photographer offering instant photos at a good price.

Further down the main avenue leading to the square, men played table tennis in the spring sunshine and a middle-aged man hawked blue and yellow national flags. Another sold souvenirs on a mat he had rolled out on the ground.

By the huge barricade of tyres, furniture and sandbags at the far end of the avenue, children climbed up onto a blue police van, captured during the protests, to have their photos taken by their parents.


After three months of protests which began over Yanukovich's decision to spurn a political and trade pact with the European Union, the ordinary is juxtaposed with the extraordinary in many parts of Independence Square - or Maidan, The Square, as it is better known.

On the other side of the square from the long avenue where children played on Saturday, there is a more sombre atmosphere. The steep hill rising up from Maidan has been turned into a memorial with tens of thousands of flowers, where families come on what is akin to a pilgrimage.

The street - now called the Avenue of the Glory of the Heavenly Hundred - is full of makeshift shrines where victims' portraits lie among the flowers above candles. A wall is plastered with children's drawings that honour the dead.

"We're here because we're proud of what these people did. We've come to show respect," said Galina Kupovich, out strolling with her husband Bohdan, and fighting back tears.

Despite the sombre mood on this side of the square, few people show any sign of concern that Ukraine could be about to go to war with Moscow over Russian forces' seizure of Crimea.

It is, however, at the back of some people's minds.

"We've achieved what we wanted, we've got rid of Yanukovich, so we're happy about that. But it's tempered by the fact that so many people died and now we've got Russia to deal with," said Bohdan Kupovich.

Referring to the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he said: "I never thought our country could ever become like the Balkans, but now I'm not so sure."

In a hotel overlooking the square, one man shared a much gloomier view with reporters.

As the children played down below, and families strolled though the shrines, far-right leader Dmytro Yarosh, one of the protest leaders, issued a warning: "Ukraine is in a state of war with Russia and the danger of a broader occupation remains."


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