Thousands of civic leaders gathered in Benghazi today to declare that Eastern Libya would become a semi-autonomous region known as Cyrenaica—a move strenuously opposed by Libya's official interim government, the National Transitional Council. The conference elected Ahmed al-Zubair, an NTC member and the longest-serving political prisoner under Moammar Gadhafi, to lead Cyrenaica's governing council, the AP reports. Zubair said Cyrenaica would recognize the NTC as Libya's government in international affairs. "Libya will not be divided. It is one nation," he promised.
Eastern Libyans say they've been neglected for decades by Gadhafi's regime, and oppose a draft constitution that would give them only 60 seats in Libya's assembly. But the NTC staunchly opposes the split. "This is very dangerous," its political head said. "This is a blatant call for fragmentation. We reject it in its entirety." The move is also troubling for oil companies, Reuters points out; most of Libya's oil is in the east, and they fear having to renegotiate their contracts. (Read more Libya stories.)