Hundreds of people protested in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, venting their anger against the authorities and demanding accountability, a week after floods killed thousands of residents and destroyed entire neighborhoods.
Demonstrators took aim at officials, including the head of Libya’s eastern-based parliament, Aguila Saleh, during a demonstration outside the city’s Al-Sahaba mosque on Monday. Some sat on its roof in front of its golden dome, the landmark of Derna.
“Aguila, we don’t want you! All Libyans are brothers!” protesters chanted, calling for national unity in a country that has been politically fractured by more than a decade of conflict and chaos.
Later in the evening, angry protesters set fire to the house of the man who was Derna’s mayor at the time of the flood, Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi, his office manager told Reuters.
Hichem Abu Chkiouat, a minister in the eastern Libyan government, said Ghaithi had been suspended from his post.
Libya has two rival administrations, the internationally recognized one based in the western capital of Tripoli and another self-proclaimed government based in the eastern city of Benghazi, backed by renegade general Khalifa Haftar.
Monday’s protest is the first major demonstration since floods swept through Derna, when two dams in the hills outside the town failed during a heavy storm and unleashed a devastating torrent.
Said Mansour, a student taking part in the protest, said he wanted an urgent investigation into the collapse of the dams, which “caused us to lose thousands of our loved ones”.
Taha Miftah, 39, said the protest was a message that “governments have failed to handle the crisis”, with parliament mainly to blame.
He called for an international investigation into the disaster and “reconstruction under international supervision”.
The full extent of the casualties is not yet known, thousands of people are still missing. Officials gave widely varying death tolls. The World Health Organization confirmed 3,922 deaths.
Saleh last week sought to deflect blame from the authorities, describing the flooding as an “unprecedented natural disaster” and saying people should not focus on what could or should have been done.
But commentators have pointed to early warnings, including an academic paper published last year by a hydrologist outlining the city’s vulnerability to flooding and the urgent need to maintain the dams that protected it.