(Bloomberg) -- Protests erupted in the Libyan town of Derna on Monday, as rage over officials’ preparation for and response to a storm that left more than 10,000 people dead or missing deepen political tensions in the country.

The home of Derna’s mayor was torched as thousands gathered to protest, according to the Libyan Observatory. The people called for the removal of the country’s eastern-based parliament and demanded an investigation into what they said was the neglect and corruption that led to the collapse of two dams.

The rupturing of the dams led to flash floods and waves several meters high that wiped out a quarter of the town of 90,000. Libyan officials said the official death toll stood at almost 3,400, though estimates have run as high as over 11,000. At least 9,000 more are missing.

“There is no god but God and Aguila is the enemy of God,” the protesters chanted, according to footage aired by Libya Ahrar television. They were referring to Aguila Saleh, speaker of the eastern parliament.

Growing Rage

The demonstrators said their city had been “living with open injustice for more than 60 years.” They said they will not accept “anything other than what they demanded.”

Libyan officials are struggling to respond to the crisis. Initial rescue and recovery efforts were hampered by damage caused by the flooding. International organizations have warned of growing health risks, including cholera, from contaminated water. 

Officials in the east have already ordered the removal of the entire city council and referred them for investigation. 

Anguished History

Derna’s anguish began long before the floods and resulting deaths. 

Under Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, who was ousted in 2011, it was largely neglected and served as a home of opposition to the dictator. After his ouster, it emerged as one of the epicenters for religious extremists, including groups linked to al-Qaeda, before those movements were crushed by eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar in 2018. 

Even after those groups were routed, the town was viewed with suspicion by Haftar and the Libyan National Army he heads, meaning it didn’t receive the same kind of aid and attention afforded to other eastern cities like Benghazi, which sits 290 kilometers west of Derna. 

Read More: Libyan Flood Toll Tops 11,300 Amid Recovery and Recrimination

The disparity was further accentuated by Libya’s post-2011 uprising politics. An OPEC member that sits atop Africa’s largest reserves of crude oil, Libya is governed by rival administrations in the east and the west — a rift born from fighting and chaos that ensued when Qaddafi was killed.

A key complaint is that the eastern parliament failed to convene until three days after the flooding. Survivors, volunteers, militia forces and international rescue workers struggled to take stock of the damage after the waters effectively wiped out at least a quarter of the city, according to Libyan officials.


Libyan officials in the east have pledged at least 10 billion dinars ($2.1 billion) to help Derna and other storm-hit cities recover. But the political division in the country has the potential to undercut a unified response. 

Around 20 countries have offered help, either sending in rescue teams or pledging funds or flying in relief supplies, according to Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who heads the Tripoli-based government. The United States said it would provide $11 million to local and international groups.

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