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Libya's oil flows again as ancient times return

Mon, 28 Mar 2011

Oil supplies will start flowing from Libya in the next few days as the Nato-led air strikes assist rebels to push further westward from their base in eastern Libya.

In recent successes, rebels have recaptured the key oil town of Ajdabiya as well as Ras Lanuf, Brega and Uqayla further to the west.

Nato forces have also struck at Sabha in central Libya and at Misrata, which is the only significant rebel-held city in western Libya and had been under heavy bombardment from government forces.

In between Ras Lanuf and Misrata is Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace and the only government-held town outside of the enclave around the capital Tripoli.

This means Colonel Gaddafi’s regime now controls only a small part of the coastline in western Libya, closest to Tunisia, and has none of its oil fields.

It has been a remarkable defeat for a dictator who last week was reported by the western media to be close to winning the battle against the rebels.

Students of ancient and more modern history will recall Libya has only existed as a country since the 20th century, when it was forcibly united by Mussolini.

In ancient times, the area around Tripoli was known as Tripolis (the three cities), founded by the Phoenicians, who also established Carthage (in modern Tunisia). Meanwhile, Cyrenaica in the east was closely connected with Greece and Egypt.

During World War II, German General Rommel failed to take control of eastern Libya because extended supply lines around the coast were easily attacked, just as Gaddafi's forces have found in their failed attempt to conquer the rebels' stronghold in Benghazi.

In other developments:
• Libyan rebels say they have signed an oil contract with Qatar to export oil from eastern Libya.

• US Defence Secretary Robert Gates accuses Gaddafi of planting bodies at sites bombed by Nato forces to back his claims civilians are being targeted.

• Libyan government shows off 33 coffins of alleged air strike victims but only 13 were buried.

A senior Libyan rebel official, Ali Tarhouni, said on Qatar will start handling oil exports “within a week.”

"We contacted the oil company of Qatar and thankfully they agreed to take all the oil that we wish to export and market this oil for us," said Ali, who is in charge of economic, financial and oil matters. "We are producing about 100,000 to 130,000 barrels a day, we can easily up that to about 300,000 a day."

Libya produces 1.6 million barrels per day of oil but analysts believe this has fallen by at least two-thirds since unrest began last month.

Bodies used as propaganda
Gates told CBS’ Face the Nation current affairs programme that US was being "extremely careful in this military effort" and said US and allied pilots "have really done an extraordinary job" in avoiding civilian casualties.

"We do have a lot of intelligence reporting about Gaddafi taking the bodies of the people he's killed and putting them at the sites where we've attacked," Gates said.

Meanwhile, at the seaside cemetery of Shat Hansheer, 33 wooden coffins were lined up for the service but only 13 bodies were ultimately buried, news agencies said.

The Libyan government said the dead were victims of Nato air strikes and dozens of Gaddafi supporters used the occasion to rail against the West, Arab countries and the rebels in eastern Libya. Pictures of the coffins were carried in some western media, including the Weekend Herald.

Only 13 were buried and the rest of the coffins were loaded back up on pickup trucks or into ambulances after the service with officials explaining that the families of the dead wished to bury them in other cemeteries.

Officials said that most of the 13 were civilians but several people in attendance said they were volunteer fighters who were killed battling rebels in Misrata and in towns further east alongside the army.

Others said they might have been guarding some of the military installations in Tripoli that were bombed by allied forces over the past few days.

It is a common ploy by terrorists and others under attack from western forces to claim civilians are being deliberately targeted, though this is in contravention of UN resolutions and accepted military practice. In Afghanistan, civilian deaths are always highlighted, as in this BBC report, which doesn’t mention they were in a car travelling with a Taliban leader and associates, as reported in the New York Times.

Arab rebellion spreads
SYRIA’s President Bashar al-Assad released hundreds of Islamist political prisoners and 14 members of the Kurdish minority after continued demonstrations against his government. Some reports from tightly-censored Syria say dozens of demonstrators have been killed with the protests spreading from southern Syria to the Mediterranean port of Latakia.

YEMEN's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is clinging to power after six weeks of protests and mounting demands he quit after 32 years of despotic rule in one of the world’s most impoverished and backward countries. Some reports say he is negotiating an exit amid clashes between the army and rebels in the south of the once-divided country.

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Libya's oil flows again as ancient times return