UN Secretary-General António Guterres has appealed for calm as street demonstrations have spread across Libya protesting power cuts and the failure to hold national elections.
Talks between Libyan factions in Geneva convened by UN special adviser Stephanie Williams progressed last week but without agreement on a constitution for the elections.
Protesters stormed parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk on Friday night as anger exploded over deteriorating living conditions and political deadlock.
“The secretary-general is following with concern the protests that have unfolded in several cities across Libya, including Tripoli, Tobruk and Benghazi,” Guterres’ office said in a statement.
The UN chief called on protesters “to avoid acts of violence and on security forces to exercise maximum restraint”.
According to the statement, António Guterres also urged “Libyan actors to come together to overcome the continuing political stalemate”, which negatively “deepened the division”.
Libyan protesters, after a year of relative calm amid drawn-out internal political infighting, appear to have lost patience with the political class, saying they will continue to demonstrate until all ruling elites leave power.
Williams had hoped elections scheduled for December would lead to a changing of the guard in the country, but disputes over the constitution, the eligibility of some presidential candidates and the dominance of former figures who controlled the political landscape during the last decade led to their cancellation.
Since the failure to hold elections, Williams has been trying to persuade factions in the east and west of the country to agree on a future constitution for the country as a precondition for holding elections.
Ultimately, it could be the street protests, including the storming of parliament in Tobruk on Friday, that galvanizes the political elite to make the necessary compromises.
Over the weekend, protesters staged their biggest rallies in years in the capital, Tripoli, chanting slogans against Libya’s embattled political elites, while demonstrators blocked roads in Benghazi and Misrata and set fire to government buildings in Sebha and Qarabuli.
“We affirm our determination to continue the path of peaceful protest until the last breath to achieve our goals,” said the Beltrees Youth Movement, an online activist group angry at living conditions.
He said he would occupy the streets and squares of the city until all political bodies in power “announce their resignation in public”.
The country is divided between the eastern-based House of Representatives which appointed Fathi Bashagha as prime minister and the Tripoli-based caretaker government led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
Under an earlier deal, Dbeibah had pledged to step down in the elections, but then refused to do so, after which Bashaga attempted to seize Tripoli.
Dbeibah said on Friday that all members of Libya’s political institutions should step down and hold elections, but Williams said there was no choice but to agree on a constitutional framework in order to hold the first elections. presidential elections in the country’s history. “The only way to get real legitimacy is through the ballot box,” she said. She warned that the poorest and most destitute had been left behind by political strife.
Neither the Tobruk parliament nor the western-based High Council of State can claim credible terms to stay in power as they were elected as early as 2011, but the previous lack of visible public anger has so far left the existing class secure in power, using patronage and access to Libya’s vast oil wealth to distribute largesse to key groups.