Reuters International

Prime Minister of Libya's unity government Fayez Seraj speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in the naval base of Tripoli, Libya, June 3, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

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By Ahmed Elumami

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Armed groups are making Libya's power supply problems worse by pressuring distributors to favour the neighbourhoods they control, the head of the U.N.-backed unity government said on Tuesday.

Power cuts in parts of Libya have become longer and more frequent in recent weeks, continuing into the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began in early June.

The U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is under pressure to improve living conditions, which have deteriorated sharply during years of conflict and political chaos since the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Designed to replace two other rival governments set up in Tripoli and the east in 2014, the GNA is also still struggling to establish its authority.

Its Prime Minister, Fayez Seraj, said the power cuts were partly due to technical and financial problems, and that some plants had been damaged during clashes.

"Most of the power plants do not work fully," he said, in a televised address broadcast early on Tuesday. "We need foreign companies to return and resume the process of maintenance."

Another problem facing the GNA is the influence wielded by the country's numerous armed groups, which Seraj said was also affecting electricity supplies.

"Unfortunately, in terms of the security issue there are some control rooms do not equally distribute power cuts as they are under pressure from armed groups that force them not to cut power in their areas."

The unity government is also trying to tackle a liquidity crisis that economists blame on people losing trust in banks and keeping their money at home. This has contributed to long delays in salary payments and strict limits on cash withdrawals.

Seraj said the GNA and the central bank had issued letters of credit, increased foreign currency allowances and printed more banknotes.

Separate batches of banknotes printed in Britain and Russia by rival offices of the central bank arrived in Tripoli and the east recently, and Seraj said the offices were coordinating to ensure the notes were distributed equally across the country.

"The solution requires time," Seraj said. "But we expect that there will positive results soon."

The GNA is also working to revive oil production, which has fallen to less than one quarter of the 1.6 million barrels per day produced in 2011, he said.

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by John Stonestreet)

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