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Libya flood: Mayor’s house set on fire as protesters demand accountability from government

People who survived the deadly storm that hit Libya, protest outside the Al Sahaba mosque against the government in Derna, Libya September 18, 2023. The sign reads: “The sad city of Derna demands its rights”. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Protests erupted in the Libyan town of Derna on Monday, with hundreds expressing their anger at the authorities and demanding answers one week after a flood claimed lives of many residents and displaced as many as ten thousand people.

As the demonstrations grew intense, enraged protesters set fire to the residence of Derna’s mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi. Hichem Abu Chkiouat, a minister in the eastern Libyan government, stated that Ghaithi has been temporarily removed from his position. Reuters news agency couldn’t reach Ghaithi for his response right away.

Monday’s protest marks the first significant gathering since the flood. This catastrophe occurred when two dams located in the hills outside the city collapsed during a powerful storm, unleashing a devastating deluge.

Protesters also directed their grievances towards officials, including Aguila Saleh, the head of the eastern-based Libyan parliament, during a demonstration outside the Sahaba mosque. Some protesters even occupied the roof in front of the mosque’s golden dome, a famous landmark in Derna.

The eastern Libyan government, led by Prime Minister Usama Hamad, has removed all members of Derna’s municipal council and referred them for an investigation.

Protesters chanted, “Aguila, we don’t want you. All Libyans are brothers,” calling for national unity in a country that has been politically divided due to more than a decade of conflict and chaos.

Mansour, a student participating in the protest, demanded an immediate inquiry into the dam collapse, which “resulted in the loss of thousands of our beloved people.”

Another protester, Taha Miftah, asserted that the demonstration sent a message that “the government has failed to handle the crisis,” with the parliament bearing significant responsibility. He called for an international investigation into the disaster and “reconstruction under international supervision.”

The exact number of casualties remains uncertain, and officials have provided widely varying death tolls. The Libyan Red Crescent reported at least 11,300 deaths and over 10,000 missing persons, while the World Health Organization confirmed 3,922 deaths.

Last week, Saleh attempted to shift blame away from the authorities, describing the flood as an “unprecedented natural disaster” and discouraging dwelling on what could or should have been done.

However, experts have pointed out prior warnings, including an academic paper published last year by a hydrologist, which highlighted the city’s vulnerability to floods and the urgent need to maintain the dams that protected it.

Derna is situated in eastern Libya, a region under the control of military commander Khalifa Haftar and governed by an administration operating parallel to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, in the western part of the country.

(With inputs from agencies)



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