TRIPOLI, Libya – The head of eastern Libya's self-declared semiautonomous region on Friday called for a boycott of next month's national vote for an assembly that would form a government and prepare for the country's new constitution.
Ahmed al-Zubair claimed that the elections are just another tool to "marginalize" the east.
His call is a sign of the tribal and political factionalism that plagues Libya after the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.
The uprising against Gadhafi began in Benghazi, eastern Libya's main city, where people have long complained that Gadhafi's regime in the western part of the country discriminated against them.
Eastern leaders say nothing has changed since the toppling of Gadhafi's rule.
"We don't want to be part of the national congress. It's just another form of marginalization by the West," al-Zubair said.
It is not clear to what extend his call for a boycott of the June vote would resonate among the easterners, who like Libyans elsewhere are eager to move forward with a new government and constitution.
Top tribal leaders and commanders of militia groups in eastern Libya in March set up a semi-independent region named Barqa, leading to fears that Libya could fragment into several states. Barqa would cover nearly half the country, from the center to the Egyptian border in the east and south to the borders with Chad and Sudan. The state would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital in Benghazi, the country's second largest city after Tripoli.
The move was seen as an expression of frustration with decades of neglect by Gadhafi and the inability of the new government, the National Transitional Council, to improve the situation.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the leader of the NTC who is originally from eastern Libya, criticized Barqa leaders and accused them of serving foreign interests that aim to tear the country apart. The NTC has promised to speed up decentralization to give local councils more authority, but Barqa leaders have rejected that.
"Any new government can come and change the whole thing again," said tribal sheik Tayyeb al-Obeidi from one of the biggest tribes in the country.
Al-Obeidi spoke during a meeting Thursday of top tribal leaders in the east who discussed forming local councils within two weeks that would report to the Barqa's main administrative council.
However, al-Obeidi said this move would not go against the national unity of Libyans or cancel the government in Tripoli.