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Libya floods: Derna silenced by authorities in bid to contain protests

Arrests and a communications blackout have followed demonstrations in the disaster-hit city
Libyans protest outside mosque one week after deadly floods in Derna (Reuters)
Libyans protest outside a mosque one week after the deadly floods in Derna (Reuters)

Authorities in the city of Derna in eastern Libya have cracked down on residents protesting against the authorities' seemingly delayed and mismanaged response to last week's deadly flooding.

Around 20,000 people are believed to have been killed when Storm Daniel battered eastern Libya on 10 September, overwhelming an aged dam and causing flash flooding on a catastrophic scale.

More than 43,000 people have been displaced by the flooding, according to the International Organization for Migration. 

Evidence points towards eastern Libyan authorities ignoring warnings of imminent danger and misguidedly telling people to stay indoors as the waters rose.

In response, Derna residents gathered in protest on Monday at the central Sahaba Square and railed against officials they blamed for the disaster. Some even set fire to a house believed to belong to Derna's unelected mayor, who is also a nephew of the powerful parliament speaker, Aguila Saleh.

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Since then, a clampdown has begun, including on foreign journalists.

A medical student in Derna, whose name Middle East Eye is withholding for security reasons, said all communications in the city were cut off on Wednesday in response to the protests, making it incredibly difficult for people to reach loved ones amid the chaos and convey the situation to the outside world.

“We have not been able to contact our family,” the student told MEE. “We are also hearing rumours that people who went to the protests are being arrested.”

Abdelgader Legnain, a Canada-based journalist originally from the eastern city of Benghazi, said around 20 people have been detained following the protests.

“I am trying to communicate with a lot of people on the ground, especially journalists," he told MEE, adding that he has heard that most of the TV news channels have left the area. Only Libyan channels al-Hadath and al-Masar are left, Legnain added.

Meanwhile, Sahaba Square has been completely closed off by soldiers belonging to the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), the coalition of militias led by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, who dominates Libya's east.

Emadeddin Badi, a senior analyst at the Atlantic Council who is currently in Tripoli, said residents had been “silenced” by the authorities’ clampdown.

'LAAF is resorting once again to its well-honed machinery of repression to silence criticism, muzzle civil society and evade responsibility'

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty

“Sahaba Square - where Derna's protesters gathered to voice their demands - is now off-limits to citizens thanks to barricades & LAAF security. There is no place left in Derna for citizens to publicly assemble,” he posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International called on the LAAF to immediately lift all undue restrictions imposed on the media and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to all communities. It also accused the LAAF of leading a clampdown on journalists following the Sahaba Square protest.

“Instead of focusing on facilitating humanitarian access to all affected communities, LAAF is resorting once again to its well-honed machinery of repression to silence criticism, muzzle civil society and evade responsibility,” Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

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