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Libya: Rebels ready to dispach first oil shipment


AFP/Tue Apr 5, 1:44 AM ET

BENGHAZI, Libya, Apr 5
, 2011

Libyan rebels hoped to begin their first independent oil shipment on Tuesday, helping replenish eastern finances depleted by a weeks-long rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi.

The tanker Equator, which can carry 1 million barrels of crude, was due to arrive at the east Libyan port of Marsa el Hariga, satellite ship tracking data showed on Monday.

The rebel leadership says Qatar agreed to market oil from east Libyan fields no longer under Gaddafi's control after the small Gulf state recognised the revolutionary council in Benghazi as Libya's legitimate government.

Italy , a major investor in Libyan oil, also sided with the rebels on Monday, promising them weapons and demanding that Gaddafi and his family, who enjoyed warm ties with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, leave Libya.

"It rectifies a wrong," said Jalal el-Galal, a member of the rebel media committee in Benghazi. "Of course, Berlusconi is close to Gaddafi, but that doesn't mean that Italy is. It is important that Italy should take this step because of our natural ties."

The tanker Equator was due to arrive in rebel-held east Libya to load a cargo of crude oil, Platts energy service said. The rebel national council in Benghazi has pressed to be exempted from trade sanctions on Libya while managing to maintain lowered production at some oil fields.

A first oil sale would help pay state salaries and bolster the council's image as a viable government after foreign powers backed air strikes against Gaddafi. Rebel hopes of a swift Gaddafi departure have been frustrated.

Witnesses have told of a "massacre" by Gaddafi forces in Misrata, the main rebel stronghold in Libya's west. Fighting in the east between the rebel army and Gaddafi's better-armed forces has reached stalemate in the oil town of Brega.

Some residents in the capital Tripoli, angered by fuel shortages and long queues for basic goods caused by a popular revolt and Western sanctions and air strikes, began openly predicting his imminent downfall.

"People from the east will come here. Maybe in two weeks," said one entrepreneur who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals. "But now, people are afraid."

Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said Libya was ready for a "political solution" with world powers.

"We could have any political system, any changes: constitution, election, anything. But the leader has to lead this forward," he told reporters when asked about the content of negotiations with other countries.


Rebels fighting Gaddafi's forces in the east have shown signs of greater organization, moving more cautiously with the backing of Western air strikes and holding ground for longer.

Gaddafi's forces sent them scrambling back east after they came within reach of his home town of Sirte.

They regrouped in Brega and have held their ground for five days, with the rebel army keeping poorly-trained and ill-equipped volunteers away from the front line to improve discipline.

Evacuees from Misrata, the rebels' last major stronghold in western Libya, described the city as "hell." They said Gaddafi's troops were using tanks and snipers against residents, littering the streets with corpses and filling hospitals with the wounded.

"You have to visit Misrata to see the massacre by Gaddafi," said Omar Boubaker, a 40-year-old engineer with a bullet wound to the leg, brought to the Tunisia n port of Sfax by a French aid group. "Corpses are in the street. Hospitals are overflowing."

Misrata rose up with other towns against Gaddafi last month but most others have been retaken by government forces.

"I could live or die, but I am thinking of my family and friends who are stranded in the hell of Misrata," said tearful evacuee Abdullah Lacheeb, who had serious injuries to his pelvis and stomach and a bullet wound in his leg.

"Imagine, they use tanks against civilians. He (Gaddafi) is prepared to kill everyone there."

Story by Angus MacSwan from Reuters. Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Ibon Villelabeitia in Cairo; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer and David Stamp ; Editing by Jon Hemming

Reuters / Tue Apr 5, 2011 4:14am EDT


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