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Libya Faces Chaos as Court Rejects Elected Assembly

Source: Reuters 11/6/2014, Location: Africa

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Libya's Supreme Court on Thursday declared the internationally recognized parliament as unconstitutional, in a ruling likely to fuel further chaos in the north African oil producing nation.

The decision came a day after gunmen stormed Libya's biggest oilfield, shutting down production at the facility in the country's remote south in a new blow to the already beleaguered energy sector.

Libya is in chaos as two rival governments and parliaments are struggling for control of the country's vast energy reserves three years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. Dozens of armed groups have also joined the fray.

Western powers and Libya's neighbors fear the OPEC member nation is heading for a full-blown civil war, with former rebels who helped oust Gaddafi now using their guns to carve out their own fiefdom.

Libya is split into a western part controlled by fighters calling themselves Operation Dawn, who seized the capital in August, leaving the internationally recognized parliament and government in charge of a rump state in the east.

In a televised ruling likely to deepen these divisions and hamper United Nations mediation efforts, the Supreme Court invalidated the election of the House of Representatives, which has fled to the eastern city of Tobruk. It said a committee that prepared the election law had violated the country's provisional constitution.

The June election produced an assembly with a strong showing of liberals and federalists, annoying Islamists with links to Operation Dawn, which seized Tripoli two months later.

The Supreme Court is based in Tripoli, where Dawn has reinstated the previous parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), where Islamists had been stronger.

The fighters, who come mainly from the western city of Misrata, have taken control of state bodies, calling into question the court's ability to rule independently.

A GNC official predictably welcomed the decision, while hundreds of people in Tripoli were seen celebrating. A spokesman for the House of Representatives in Tobruk declined to comment.

GUNMEN STORM OILFIELD

The decision came after gunmen stormed Libya's El Sharara oilfield on Tuesday and Wednesday, shutting down the country's biggest production facility in a blow to government efforts to keep the oil industry isolated from the spreading chaos.

It was not clear what happened exactly but rival tribes have fought over the area near the field twice in the past twelve months to press authorities to meet their financial and political demands.

Officials said on Thursday the gunmen had left the field. Oil company vehicles riddled with bullet holes could be seen on social media. A Libyan official said authorities hoped to restart production very soon but they needed resolve local conflicts first.

The closure will lower the OPEC member's oil production,

last reported at around 800,000 bpd, by at least 200,000 bpd, worsening a budget crisis as oil revenues have been well below target due to repeated strikes across the country.

Some Libyan websites said the gunmen were linked to the Misrata-led alliance, but that could not be confirmed. Both sides -- the Tripoli rulers and the government in the east -- have an interest in keeping the oil flowing as their supporters are on the state payroll.

Conditions in the poverty stricken south have worsened since the seizure of Tripoli, which has hampered the work of government ministries and deprived the south of food, consumer goods and money from the central bank.

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