Libya MPs oust premier after rebel oil shipment

TRIPOLI (AFP) - The Libyan parliament ousted Prime Minister Ali Zeidan Tuesday after a tanker laden with crude oil from a rebel-held terminal broke through a naval blockade and escaped to sea.

The no-confidence motion was approved by 124 of the 194 members of the General National Congress, four more than the majority required, MPs said.

Mr Zeidan, an independent elected with the support of liberals, has proved incapable of bringing to heel the myriad of former rebel militia that have carved out their own fiefdoms since the 2011 uprising that toppled the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi. The premier was himself briefly abducted by former rebel militia in the heart of the capital last October.

In a new humiliation for his government, a North Korean-flagged tanker laden that had taken on a cargo of oil from a rebel-held terminal in the east slipped the warships deployed to intercept it and escaped to sea earlier Tuesday. The Morning Glory, which docked in Al-Sidra Saturday and is reported to have taken on at least 234,000 barrels of crude, is the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held terminal since the challenge against the Tripoli authorities erupted last July.

Mr Zeidan's government had threatened armed action, even an air strike, to prevent the tanker getting away with the oil bought from the rebels' self-declared autonomous regional government without the authorisation of the state-owned Libyan National Oil Corp. But bad weather prevented the small naval vessels - mostly fast patrol boats - from following the huge ship out into the Mediterranean from Al-Sidra, MPs said. "The oil tanker took advantage of poor weather conditions to head for the open sea. The ships that were surrounding it were not in a position to follow," one MP told AFP.

MPs voiced anger at the failure of Zeidan's government to make good on its threat to stop the tanker by force if necessary. "The situation in the country has become unacceptable. Even those MPs who used to support the prime minister no longer have any alternative," MP Suad Gannur told AFP.

Warships had deployed to block the Morning Glory after Culture Minister Amin al-Habib warned Sunday that the tanker would be "turned into a pile of metal" if it tried to leave port.

The GNC now has two weeks to agree on a replacement prime minister. Defence Minister Abdullah al-Thani was named caretaker premier.

Mr Zeidan had warned that the country faced chaos if he were ousted without a consensus on his replacement. The government has said a task force composed of both regular troops and ex-rebel militia is being formed to bring the rebel ports back under central government control within a week.

But analysts warn that any resort to force risks plunging Libya back into civil war and wreaking major damage to the country's oil infrastructure.

The standoff between Tripoli and the eastern rebels has already slashed Libyan oil exports from 1.5 million barrels per day to just 250,000, dealing a massive blow to the North African country's key revenue earner.

The former rebels who seized control of eastern export terminals last July are demanding the restoration of the autonomy that Cyrenaica enjoyed for the first 12 years after Libyan independence in 1951.

They insist that all oil sales they make will be transparent but that revenues from eastern exports should be kept by the region.

They have made several previous attempts to make shipments through their own oil company but the Morning Glory is the first to have successfully taken on crude.

Washington said Sunday it was "deeply concerned" over the loading of "illicitly obtained" oil.

"This action is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "The oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners."

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