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Mon 2 Jan 2012 07:58 AM

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Workers at Tripoli's battered port strike for overhaul

Port workers want investment to fix war damage to Libya’s largest non-oil harbour

Workers at Tripoli's battered port strike for overhaul
The port has suffered from years of neglect, exacerbated by war damage

Port workers in Libya's capital Tripoli went on strike on
Sunday to demand better working conditions and government investment to fix
major damage caused by war
and decades of negligence.

The port, Libya's largest non-oil harbour, was damaged
during the civil war that ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule. In May, NATO sank eight
Libyan warships there and intercepted a fuel tanker it believed was destined
for Gaddafi's military forces.

The port's decay predates the conflict, and it was held up
as an example of poor management by the Gaddafi government.

Workers say the new government needs to invest millions of
dollars to get the port's collapsed platforms and other facilities back into
shape. Maintenance work has not been done for years, they said.

On Sunday, some 300 of the port's 1,800 workers gathered at
the main gate to press their demands.

"We are not asking for extra money," said Adel
al-Tomi, 43, an administrative clerk who has been working at the port for 15
years. "We want the company to take care of the port. We want our rights
as workers, we want a place to hide from the cold and the heat."

The workers said they will continue to strike until they get
a timeline for rebuilding the port's facilities and fixing its platforms.

Soliman bin Yased, the port's director of operations, agreed
with the workers demands, but said the walkout was hurting business.

He said water supplies were cut off by a major storm in 1980
and never properly restored, while ship containers were used as offices as
"the former regime removed all the buildings inside the port."

The port, managed by a state-run company, went back to
near-normal business in September, a few weeks after Gaddafi was overthrown,
but conditions remained dire.

"The entire place is in chaos," said security
guard Yousef Mokhtar, pointing at a dozen fire extinguishers left under the
rain.

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