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Libya tribes declare breakaway zone

Tribal leaders and militia commanders have declared oil-rich eastern Libya a semi-autonomous state, a unilateral move that the interim head of state called a "dangerous" conspiracy by Arab nations to tear the country apart six months after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Thousands of representatives of major tribes, militia commanders and politicians made the declaration at a conference in the main eastern city of Benghazi, insisting it was not intended to divide the country.

They said they want their region to remain part of a united Libya, but needed to do this to stop decades of discrimination against the east.

The conference declared that the eastern state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital - Benghazi, the country's second largest city - to run its own affairs. Foreign policy, the national army and oil resources would be left to the central government in the capital Tripoli in western Libya.

Barqa would cover nearly half the country, from the centre to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the Tripoli-based interim central government known as the National Transitional Council, warned the declaration "leads to danger" of eventually breaking up the North African nation of six million. But he also said it was to be expected, because the east played a pivotal role in ending Gaddafi's rule.

"Some Arab nations, unfortunately, have supported and encouraged this to happen," he said, without naming any countries.

"These nations are funding this kind of unacceptable strife," he added at a news conference in Tripoli. "What happened today is the beginning of a conspiracy against Libya and Libyans."

Fadl-Allah Haroun, a senior tribal figure and militia commander, said the declaration aims for administrative independence, not separation.

"We are not talking about changing the flag or national anthem. We are talking about different administration, a parliament and managing the financial affairs," he said.

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