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Crafts festival seeks to attract visitors to Libya's 'pearl of the desert'

The festival, which also highlights Tuareg traditions, aims to bring visitors to the desert gem of Ghadames
— Ghadames (Libya) (AFP)

Young girls in colourful dress and traditional jewellery sing at a festival in Libya's Ghadames, an oasis city that was relatively unscathed by the past decade's chaos and is seeking to attract visitors.

Under tents strung up with red and ochre patterned material, baskets were on display as a woman sat weaving one together with a large wooden needle, silver rings tracing the movements of her hands as she worked.

Ghadames, known as the "pearl of the desert", is located nearly 500 kilometres (310 miles) southwest of the capital Tripoli.

The UNESCO-listed oasis city, a pre-Roman Berber settlement and a key stop on Saharan trade routes, has unique multilevel architecture with whitewashed, covered alleyways.

In 2016, it was one of five Libyan sites added to the UN cultural body's list of World Heritage in Danger after Libya plunged into lawlessness and armed conflict following the 2011 toppling of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The crafts festival, which also highlights Tuareg traditions, aims to bring visitors to the desert gem near the border with Tunisia and Algeria.

"It's a great honour for Ghadames to host this shopping and heritage festival," said mayor Qasem Mohammed al-Manea, 74, highlighting the "traditional industries and handicrafts made by Libyan hands".

He noted the presence of "people from various parts of Libya and even from abroad like Tunisia", expressing hope to see tourists from Algeria if a nearby border crossing is re-opened.

A United Nations-guided peace process following the last major fighting in 2020 led to the appointment the following year of a prime minister heading a Tripoli-based Government of National Unity, now contested by an administration in the east.

Clashes between the two camps repeatedly shook Libya last year, notably Tripoli.

Since July 2021, the country has been trying to have Ghadames removed from the UNESCO danger list, arguing that it has been largely sheltered from fighting.

Authorities say the only relatively recent damage to traditional houses was due to heavy rain -- a new climate phenomenon in the region.