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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan citizens occupied hundreds of homes at the end of last week that are still under construction and ransacked the offices of foreign contractors that are building them, online newspaper Oea reported.
Libya has been struggling to meet a rapid rise in housing demand from younger citizens who are embracing modern lifestyles and (many of whom, not all of them) no longer want to live with their parents.
Oea said housing projects under construction in several cities had come under a "wave of occupation" late on Thursday and early Friday. Some were looted and in a number of cases occupiers sold on the houses for giveaway prices.
The newspaper said security forced had arrested "criminal groups" that had robbed the offices of foreign firms executing the projects.
The report comes as less prosperous neighbour Tunisia grappled with fallout from the ouster of its long-time president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on Friday after three weeks of violent unrest sparked by social grievances.
Ben Ali's overthrow has reverberated across the Arab world, raising concerns about stability in other countries in the region which share the same mix of social, economic and political problems as Tunisia.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Saturday that Tunisia was suffering bloodshed and lawlessness because its people were in too much of a rush to get rid of Ben Ali, whom he praised for developing Tunisia.
A Reuters reporter in Tripoli said that the situation in the capital was calm on Monday and that there was no significant deployment of security forces.
A government authority in charge of religious affairs urged preachers in Libya's mosques to warn their worshipers against the kind of rioting seen at the housing projects.
"The riot caused by these citizens has nothing whatsoever to do with our Islam and Islamic values. The next sermon will urge all citizens to stick to Islamic teachings that call for tolerance, order and not attacking fellow Muslims," Oea quoted the authority's secretary, Ibrahim Adeslam, as saying.
Oea did not say what might have sparked the wave of occupations but added that 80 percent of the homes were evacuated without the intervention of the police.
A witness told the paper: "Thugs took over the apartments by force and sold them to well-off buyers in fancy cars".
The government pays public sector employees a housing allocation and authorities have pledged to build 250,000 new houses by the end of 2014.
But some projects appear to be facing delays. One Internet user said he had been waiting since 2004 to get his home.