The Libyan government says it will send a representative to the next OPEC meeting to replace the top oil official who defected saying he had lost faith in the rule of Muammar Gaddafi.
Shokri Ghanem, who oversaw Libya’s oil and gas sector, is the second most senior official to quit and rebels said the defection showed that the end is nearing for Gaddafi after more than four decades in power. But a government spokesman in Tripoli played down the significance of Ghanem’s departure. “This is a country, a state, a government, not just one person,” Mussa Ibrahim told Reuters.
He said the government would be represented at the meeting of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna on June 8. “I don’t have a name yet but we’ll have somebody,” he said. In rebel-held eastern Libya, an explosion damaged a hotel used by rebels and foreigners in Benghazi, wounding one person.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council in Benghazi, told Reuters the explosion outside Tibesti hotel was believed to have been caused by a hand grenade thrown in a “desperate attempt” by Gaddafi’s loyalists to sow terror. Now in its fourth month, the Libyan conflict is deadlocked, with rebels unable to break out of their strongholds and advance towards Tripoli, where Gaddafi appears to be firmly entrenched.
Rebels control the east of Libya around Benghazi, the third-biggest city Misrata, and a mountain range stretching from the town of Zintan, 150 km (95 miles) south of Tripoli, towards the border with Tunisia. Western governments say they believe they are gradually wearing down Gaddafi’s ability to control the country, through a combination of diplomatic pressure and military action.
Explosions were also heard in central Tripoli in the early hours of Thursday and aircraft could be heard flying overhead. Libyan state television said NATO warplanes — which have repeatedly bombed Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah complex in the centre of Tripoli — had struck targets in the city.
In Misrata, rebel fighters have pushed forces loyal to Gaddafi out of the centre of the city and pushed westwards towards the neighbouring town of Zlitan, where they are exchanging artillery fire. “They (pro-Gaddafi forces) are randomly bombarding from an area near Zlitan,” said a rebel spokesman called Youssef, by telephone from Misrata. “They are using mortars and Grad rockets. There are no casualties (among the rebels) for the moment, thank God.”
Rebels say Zlitan could become the next battleground. Residents there say pro-Gaddafi forces have been moving into the town and mounting a crackdown to prevent Gaddafi opponents from rising up and joining the rebels. “Gaddafi has tightened security here. His brigades have been getting reinforcement every day. They have stepped up their campaign to arrest, terrify and frighten residents,” a rebel spokesman in Zlitan, who identified himself as Mabrouk, said.
“Most residents here support the revolutionaries but they cannot come out for fear of being killed by Gaddafi who brought criminals and provided them with all types of arms including hand grenades.”
“The humanitarian situation is very bad. There are shortages of foodstuffs, baby milk and medicine. There has been no fuel for almost two months. The quantities of fuel arriving here are destined only for the brigades,” he said.
A government official earlier said allegations that pro-Gaddafi forces had been enlisting criminals were “completely false”, saying there was nothing of the kind happening in Zlitan. Oil official Ghanem left Libya over a week ago and since then he had disappeared from view. He re-appeared on Wednesday at a news conference in Rome.
“I have been working in Libya for so many years believing that we can make a lot of reform from within. Unfortunately this became not possible, especially now, when we see the spilling of blood every day in Libya, our best youth and our best men getting killed,” Ghanem said.
An executive with Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation, Mosbah Ali Matoug, took Ghanem’s place on Thursday at a meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Cairo.