Gaddafi strikes rebels in west as battles rage in oil ports

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, people in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.

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By  Mariam Fam, Massoud A. Derhally and Zahraa Alkhalisi
(c) 2011 Bloomberg News
Friday, March 4, 2011; 10:34 AM

March 4 (Bloomberg) -- Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi sent troops to recapture towns in western Libya and prepared to quash protests in the capital, Tripoli, as rebels fought for control of oil ports on the country's central and eastern coastal strip.

The conflict has left 6,000 people dead, the opposition forces' spokesman, Abdullah Al Mahdi, told Al Jazeera television today. Al Mahdi, a colonel who defected from Qaddafi's military, said the rebels will next target Tripoli. Government forces fired live rounds and tear gas at a group of about 1,500 protesters in the capital as the regime stepped up its crackdown on dissent, the Associated Press said, citing witnesses.

Clashes in Misrata, a town about 90 miles (150 kilometers) east of Tripoli that was under opposition control, left at least 33 dead and 120 injured, a witness told Al Arabiya. Government troops attacked Zawiyah, west of Tripoli and the nearest rebel- held town, where 13 people died, a doctor told Al Arabiya. A rebel military leader was killed in Zawiyah, Al Jazeera said.

Fighting spread across the Gulf of Sidra with clashes in the oil port of Ras Lanuf and the nearby desert area of Al Agaila, according to Al Jazeera. Crude oil rose to a 29-month high in New York on concern that the unrest in Libya will spread to other regional oil producers, curbing exports.

Crude for April delivery rose 1.1 percent to $103.01 a barrel at 9:08 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange, heading for a gain of more than 5 percent this week. Production in Libya, which holds Africa's largest reserves, has dropped by more than half, with as much as 1 million barrels of daily output lost.

Some pro-Qaddafi units withdrew from Ras Lanuf after a split within the government forces during the battle with rebels, the network said. A convoy of about 100 cars carrying rebel fighters was headed toward the town, Al Jazeera said.

Ras Lanuf has a tanker terminal that exports about 200,000 barrels a day as well as Libya's biggest refinery, with a capacity of 220,000 barrels a day, more than half the country's total, according to the International Energy Agency.

In Brega, an energy hub east of Ras Lanuf with a smaller terminal and refinery, an oil company building was bombed, Al Arabiya said. The rebels have repelled government attempts to retake Brega over the past three days. Their stronghold is Benghazi, the second-biggest city, at the gulf's eastern end.

Interpol issued a global alert, known as an Orange Notice, against Qaddafi and 15 other Libyans, including members of his family and close associates. The notice is "to warn member states of the danger posed by the movement of these individuals and their assets" and to assist member states to enforce United Nations sanctions against them and to aid the International Criminal Court investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya, Interpol said in an e-mailed statement.

President Barack Obama said the U.S. military is ready to protect civilians caught up in the conflict. Libyan rebels have called for international enforcement of a no-fly zone over the country, a measure Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described as a "big operation." Speaking at the White House, Obama said the U.S. is considering a "full range" of military options and needs to have the capacity to act in a humanitarian crisis.

The U.S. is sending military and chartered civilian aircraft to help repatriate foreign workers who fled Libya and are now crowding border refugee camps in Tunisia and Egypt, Obama said. The U.K. is carrying evacuees to Egypt and Malta by air and sea, and India has dispatched two navy troop-carriers to the Mediterranean.

The heads of the UN, European Union, Arab League and Organization of the Islamic Conference yesterday urged Qaddafi to permit immediate access for aid workers to help displaced Libyans and migrant workers. More than 150,000 people have fled Libya to neighboring Egypt and Tunisia since Feb. 19, the UN refugee agency said on March 1. The EU said it may expand sanctions on Libya next week.

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