Communications are gradually being restored, according to the National Telecommunications Company (LPTIC). They were cut off on Tuesday September 19 in Derna, a town in eastern Libya devastated by deadly floods, the day after a demonstration by residents demanding accountability from the authorities they blame for the disaster.
The cellular and Internet network had been out of service since Tuesday morning, according to local sources. Agence France-Presse was unable to contact its journalists in the city by telephone or messaging.
The cut was caused by “a break in optical fibers in the town of Derna,” LPTIC said on its Facebook account. According to the company, this outage, which also affects other localities in eastern Libya, “could be the result of a deliberate act of sabotage. Our teams are working to repair it as quickly as possible.”
Dissolution of the Derna City Council
Gathered in front of the city's large mosque, hundreds of residents chanted slogans hostile to the eastern authorities, embodied by Parliament and its leader, Aguila Salah Issa. “The people want the fall of Parliament”, “Aguila [Salah Issa] is the enemy of God”, or even “those who stole or betrayed must be hanged”, “Libya, neither East nor West, national unity”, they chanted.
Several demonstrators burned the house of the city's hated mayor, Abdulmonem Al-Ghaithi, according to images widely shared on social networks and by Libyan media. A few hours after the demonstration, the head of the executive in eastern Libya, Osama Hammad, dissolved the Derna municipal council, against which he ordered the opening of an investigation.
According to politicians and analysts, the chaos in Libya has relegated the maintenance of vital infrastructure to the background, such as the Derna dams, the collapse of which caused floods which left 3,338 dead, according to the latest provisional official report. Monday evening by the Minister of Health of the East, Othman Abdeljalil.
Wracked by divisions since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya is in fact governed by two rival administrations: one in Tripoli (West), recognized by the UN and led by Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, the another in the East, embodied by Parliament and affiliated with the camp of powerful Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar's forces seized Derna in 2018, then a stronghold of radical Islamists, and the only city in the east that escaped his control. But the authorities in the East maintain relations of mistrust with Derna, a city considered anti-establishment since the time of Gaddafi.
“Punish the protesters”
The rupture of two dams caused a flood of the magnitude of a tsunami along the wadi which crosses Derna, a town of 100,000 inhabitants bordering the Mediterranean.
“Two years ago, there were already leaks on the big dam when it was only half full. We had warned the municipality and demanded reparations,” Abdelqader Al-Omrani told AFP from his hospital bed in Benghazi, the large city in the east. Negligent officials “have our deaths on their conscience,” he said.
“Media blockade on Derna in place now, communications cut since dawn. Make no doubt, this is not about health or security, but about punishing the demonstrators in Derna,” Emadeddin Badi, Libya specialist at the Atlantic Council, said on X (ex-Twitter).
“Extremely grim news from Derna, still reeling from horrific flooding. Residents are now terrified by an imminent military repression, seen as collective punishment for yesterday's demonstration and demands," said Tarek Megrisi, Maghreb expert at the European Council for International Relations (ECFR), also on X.
Rescuers are still working Tuesday in Derna to find the bodies of thousands of missing people presumed to have died in the floods, according to local media.