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Libya: government denies plans to lease port to foreign forces

The tanker Cartagena docked in the sea port of the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Libya,   -  
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Sergey Ponomarev/AP2011


Libya's UN-recognized national unity government, based in Tripoli, denied on Thursday that it had ceded rights to an important civilian port or authorized its use as a military base by foreign forces.

"What is being said about the state ceding or authorizing the operation of al-Khoms seaport as a foreign naval base is incorrect and baseless," said Mohamed Hamuda, spokesman for Abdelhamid Dbeibah's government.

He made the statement at the port of al-Khoms, with Libyan Navy Chief of Staff Noureddine el-Bouni and Ports and Maritime Transport Authority Director Mohamed el-Siwiwi at his side.

The spokesman was reacting to protests by hundreds of residents of this coastal city, 120 km east of Tripoli, who accuse the government of wanting to cede part of this civilian port to Turkey, a country allied to the Dbeibah government, and for military purposes.

From Sunday to Thursday morning, they set fire to tires, blocked roads and blocked access to this important commercial port, according to videos posted on social networks.

Calling for restraint, Mr. Hamuda warned against any "attack on the public interest", asserting that such acts "expose the perpetrators to criminal prosecution".

Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah attaches "great importance" to this commercial port, with plans to develop it to increase trade "with other states", he added.

The port of al-Khoms, one of Libya's largest and most important, can handle a million tons of containers a year. Along with Misrata, further east, it is considered a strategic site.

These demonstrations were overshadowed by heavy gunfire on Monday and Tuesday between two armed groups in Tripoli (western Libya), the worst in a year, which left 55 people dead and 146 wounded.

Oil-rich Libya plunged into security chaos after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2011.

Two governments have been vying for power for the past year: Mr. Dbeibah's government in the west and the one in the east backed by the powerful Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

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