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Libya's flood survivors hold protest against authorities, demand accountability

Hundreds of Libyan demonstrators take part in a protest outside of the al-Sahaba Mosque against the government, in the aftermath of the floods in the city of Derna, in Libya, on September 18, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in the northeastern Libyan city of Derna a week after flooding killed thousands of people, blaming authorities for the disaster’s high death toll.

The protest took place on Monday, with participants demanding accountability on the part of the officials, whom they accused of neglect, including the head of the eastern-based Libyan parliament, Aguila Saleh.

"Aguila we don't want you! All Libyans are brothers!" "The people want parliament to fall," "Aguila is the enemy of God," the protesters chanted.

Gathering outside the city's grand mosque, the demonstrators also called for the punishment of government officials responsible for the catastrophe, chanting "Thieves and betrayers must hang."

A statement read on behalf of the protesters urged "a speedy investigation and legal action against those responsible for the disaster."

One of the demonstrators told Reuters that the protest was a message that "the governments have failed to manage the crisis," adding that the parliament was especially to blame. He called for an international inquiry into the disaster and "for reconstruction under international supervision."

The calamity struck Derna and the villages around it last Sunday after heavy rainfall from Mediterranean Storm Daniel caused two dams to collapse in the city.

Citing the Libyan Red Crescent, the United Nations said in an update on Saturday that the death toll from catastrophic flooding had climbed to 11,300.

More than 10,000 people are still missing in the city, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, quoting Red Crescent's figures.

The flooding has also devastated whole swathes of the coastal city.

UN agencies have warned that tens of thousands of Derna's residents are homeless and badly in need of clean water, food and basic supplies, amid a growing risk of cholera, diarrhea, dehydration and malnutrition.

Last week, Saleh sought to deflect blame from authorities by describing the flood as an “unprecedented natural disaster,” and saying that people should not focus on what could or should have been done.

But commentators have drawn attention to warnings given in advance, including an academic paper published last year by a hydrologist outlining the city's vulnerability to floods and the urgent need to maintain the dams that protected it.

According to Libyan media, some protesters marched on a house reportedly owned by Derna's unpopular mayor, Abdulmonem al-Ghaithi, and set it on fire.

Hichem Abu Chkiouat, a minister in the eastern Libyan government, said Ghaithi has been suspended from his post.

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