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Libya oil chief defects as NATO extends campaign


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Yahoo News:

TRIPOLI/ROME (Reuters) - Libya's top oil official became the latest leading figure to desert Muammar Gaddafi on Wednesday, complaining of "unbearable" violence and adding political momentum to a revolt against the leader's long rule.

In rebel-held eastern Libya, an explosion damaged a hotel used by rebels and foreigners in Benghazi, wounding one person, and police said rebel authorities believed the explosion might be linked to Gaddafi agents still operating in the east.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, 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.

The defection by National Oil Corp head Shokri Ghanem, who is also a former prime minister, came two days after the defections of eight army officers including five generals and those in earlier weeks of senior diplomats and former ministers.

"I left the country and decided also to leave my job and to join the choice of Libyan youth to create a modern constitutional state respecting human rights and building a better future for all Libyans," he said.

Speaking at a news conference in Rome organized by the Libyan ambassador, who has also defected, Ghanem said he had left his job because of the "unbearable" violence in Libya.

"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, who is one of the most senior Libyan officials to have defected, said he still saw some possibility of a peaceful settlement to decide the fate of Gaddafi's 41-year-old rule. But he added that the last time he saw Gaddafi was "months ago."

"In recent days and weeks, we have seen an acceleration in the number of defections from the Gaddafi regime as it realizes that the regime has no legitimacy, no credibility and no future," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, said in a statement.

Ghanem, whose whereabouts had been unknown for several days, also said oil production in Libya is coming to a halt because of the international embargo.

Now in its fourth month, the Libyan conflict is deadlocked, with rebels unable to break out of their strongholds and advance toward 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, toward the border with Tunisia.

NATO said on Wednesday it had extended its Libyan mission for a further 90 days, after Gaddafi made it clear he would not step down, dashing hopes of a negotiated end to the fighting.

ZLITAN RISING

The 28-member alliance originally took over a campaign of air strikes, the enforcement of a no-fly zone and an arms embargo on Libya to protect rebellious civilians from attack by Gaddafi's forces in late March for 90 days.

"NATO and partners have just decided to extend our mission for Libya for another 90 days," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement. "This decision sends a clear message to the Gaddafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya."
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The non-war goes on...
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