Libyans protest move to create eastern self-ruled region

Thousands in people in Libya's two biggest cities protested on Friday against a move by leaders in the oil-rich eastern part of the country to create a self-ruled region.

The protests followed a call by tribal leaders and militia commanders in the east to name Barqa state a semi-autonomous region.

They said their decision was intended to end years of discrimination against the east under ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, not to to divide the country, the Associated Press reported. 

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Earlier this week, leaders in the eastern city of Benghazi said they would run their own affairs. They also want to name Benghazi the capital of the new Barqa state. Protestors are calling this a move for separation.

At Friday prayers in Benghazi and Tripoli, clerics warned the autonomy plan could lead to the break up of Libya. Later crowds opposed to the idea packed into squares in both cities, reported Reuters.

An estimated 5,000 people gathered in Tripoli's Martyr's Square.

"Shame on you for dividing Libya by your own hands," demonstrators chanted.

"We want to be one country," one protestor, 18-year-old Taha told Reuters. "This is what we fought for … We are going to stand as one man and say no to federalism."

Many Libyans worry these autonomous or semi-autonomous regions could eventually lead to the disintegration of the country.

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"This is not permissible to split the country … Libya must remain one country," said one of the Muslim Brotherhood' most influential clerics Sheik Youssef el-Qaradawi, during a Friday sermon in Qatar. The Islamist group is rejecting the move, warning of fragmentation.

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