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Libya to move four state companies to Benghazi

Ali Zeidan, Prime Minister of Libya pauses after his address to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva
Ali Zeidan, Prime Minister of Libya pauses after his address to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva

By Ghaith Shennib

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya said on Wednesday the headquarters of three more state firms as well as the state energy corporation would move from Tripoli to the eastern city of Benghazi, in a measure intended to devolve more authority to the oil-rich region.

A decree published on the government's Facebook page confirmed that new head offices of Libyan Airlines, the Libyan Insurance Company and the National Investment Company, as well as the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC), would be built in Benghazi.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said last week the NOC headquarters would move to Benghazi.

The NOC has faced calls since the end of the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi to move more of its operation to the eastern region, which accounts for around 80 percent of Libya's oil wealth.

"The transfer of the NOC to Benghazi does not mean that all departments in Tripoli will be closed. This organization works for all Libya and it will have branches in different cities," Zeidan told a news conference on Wednesday.

"The decision to move the NOC was not taken as a result of pressure by any group. I have long believed that given Libya's size, if state organizations and bodies are not spread across the country, the country will not stabilize."

Officials have talked for months about restructuring the NOC. Oil is Libya's economic lifeline and the OPEC member pumps around 1.6 million barrels per day.

Wednesday's decree said it was now up to the oil ministry to take necessary measures to implement the decision.

The wrangling over how to split the NOC has added to discontent in Benghazi and the east, which was starved of cash under Gaddafi, and fuelled calls for more autonomy.

On Saturday, the leader of a political group in the province declared it a self-governing region, evidence of growing pressure for a new constitution to adopt a federal structure.

The move east may be a worry for foreign companies for security reasons. Benghazi is awash with weapons and has become a no-go area for foreigners since September's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission.

Some activists feared the transfer plan could overturned by force.

"I hope that everyone in Tripoli will respect the decision and won't try to disrupt the process," one Benghazi activist, Kais el-Bakshishi, said.

(Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing by Andrew Roche)

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