TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s most outspoken newspaper reappeared on newsstands on Thursday with a new editor and a pledge of loyalty to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in an apparent concession to conservatives in the ruling elite.
The print version of the Oea newspaper, part of a media group founded by Gaddafi’s reformist son Saif al-Islam, was suspended a week ago in a crackdown by officials that also saw several of the group’s journalists briefly detained.
Saif al-Islam is seen as a potential successor to his father but he has been fighting a turf war with influential figures who have resist his attempts at reform.
Changing its title to Sabah Oea, or Oea Morning, the newspaper printed an editorial criticising the ex-head of publishing firm Al Ghad Media Group for alleging that the previous version was hijacked by conservatives.
“(The) random accusations about Oea newspaper being robbed by some party ... (are) feared to be the result of pure illusions,” Sabah Oea’s editor wrote in Thursday’s edition.
“The new Sabah Oea will be ... filled with loyalty for Libya, its leader, its radiant Al Ghad project and the principles and ethos of the profession,” he added.
Political developments in Libya, home to Africa’s biggest proven oil reserves, are watched closely by Western oil majors including BP, Eni and Exxon Mobil which have poured billions of dollars into oil and gas projects.
With its vocal criticism of red-tape and investigations into alleged corruption cases, Oea has tested the limits of press freedom in a country where political parties are banned and for decades public dissent has been taboo.
The editor of the new version of the paper is Salem Mohamed Wali, an ex-schoolmate of Muammar Gaddafi who trained as a lawyer before taking up various roles that included advisor to the high court, editor-in-chief of Libya’s al Jihad newspaper in the 1970s, and Libyan attorney-general.
Sabah Oea’s masthead said it is part of Al Ghad group, like the original Oea. A big picture of Muammar Gaddafi was displayed on its Thursday’s front-page.
The Oea website does not appear to be any different from before which could suggest that only the print version was put under new management.
Several journalists working for the Libya Press news agency, another part of Saif al-Islam’s media group, were detained by the internal security agency. They were released after Muammar Gaddafi intervened in the row.
The head of the Al Ghad group, a former opposition figure whose appointment last year angered conservatives, resigned soon after the journalists were freed.
Officials have given no explanation for detaining the journalists or suspending printing of the Oea newspaper.
Libyan conservatives believe reforms pushed by Saif al-Islam, who holds no official post, could threaten stability.
Some analysts say the infighting helps preserve the influence of Muammar Gaddafi, who has been in power for over 40 years, because it prevents any one group from becoming dominant.