Gaddafi says West after Libya’s oil as rebels pounded

Muammar Gaddafi accused the West on Wednesday of wanting to seize Libya’s oil and warned that a no-fly zone would backfire as his forces pounded rebel lines and a top aide jetted into Cairo.

“The colonialist countries are hatching a plot to humiliate the Libyan people, reduce them to slavery and control the oil,” Gaddafi said on state television.

He again accused al-Qaeda of being behind the insurrection that began on February 15 and called on inhabitants of Benghazi, the rebels’ main base, to “liberate” the eastern city.

Libya’s government offered a bounty for the capture of Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel national council which declared itself the North African country’s sole representative in Benghazi on Saturday.

“The General Administration for Criminal Investigations is offering a reward of 500 000 Libyan dinars [$410 000] for any person who captures and hands over the spy named Abdel Jalil and a reward of 200 000 Libyan dinars for anyone who provides information leading to his capture,” state television said.

In a separate television interview with Turkey’s public TRT channel, Gaddafi said, paradoxically, he was in favour of a move by the West to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent his forces from attacking rebels from the air.

That would allow “Libyans to see through the real intentions [of the international community] — to seize our oil — and then they would take up arms [to defend the country]”.

‘Nato is the natural choice’
Speaking in Brussels on the eve of talks among North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) defence ministers, a senior United States (US) official said Washington “believes that Nato is the natural choice for any military action” in Libya.

But in Paris a French diplomat insisted that “alongside Britain, we are working on what could be done without Nato. The sight of the Nato flag [in Libya] would be provocative.”

The discussions came as strong blasts rocked Libya’s rebel-held eastern oil town of Ras Lanuf, sending fire and smoke into the sky and forcing the insurgents back from the front lines.

A mechanic said a pipeline had been blown up.

Scores of rebels packed into dozens of vehicles and retreated into Ras Lanuf after several hours of sustained shelling and at least three air strikes around 5km west of town.

It was the second time in as many days the rebels had been routed in front of the government-held hamlet of Bin Jawad, some 30km from Ras Lanuf.

In Zawiyah, just west of Tripoli, the battle for control of the strategic oil city was undecided.

“The revolutionaries control the centre of Zawiyah and Gaddafi’s forces are surrounding it. It’s 50-50,” a long-term Moroccan resident said after crossing the border into Tunisia.

“There was no one in the streets, the town is completely deserted, and there are snipers on the roofs,” he said, adding that he did not know which side they were on.

‘Massive demonstrations’
But Libyan television reported that “massive demonstrations” were taking place in the centre of Zawiyah in favour of Gaddafi.

“The crowds in Zawiyah have come out on to the main square in solidarity with our brother, the leader of the revolution,” said the television, which has previously reported government successes that were belied on the ground.

Meanwhile, a member of Gaddafi’s inner circle, Abdelrahman al-Zawi, landed in Cairo aboard a private Libyan plane, an airport official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Although the purpose of Major General al-Zawi’s visit was not immediately clear, it comes as Arab League foreign ministers prepare to meet at the body’s Cairo headquarters at the weekend to discuss a no-fly zone over Libya.

Elsewhere, a “moderate member” of Gaddafi’s regime was en route for Portugal, where he was planning to meet Foreign Minister Luis Amado ahead of a series of key diplomatic meetings in Brussels this week, an EU source said.

The White House said on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron had agreed to press forward with planning a range of possible responses.

These included surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo and a no-fly zone, the White House said.

‘More action’
On Wednesday, Ibrahim Dabbashi, the deputy ambassador to the United Nations (UN) who was one of the first Libyan diplomats to turn against Gaddafi, made a new call for world powers to impose a no-fly zone against Gaddafi’s regime.

“It is very important to impose the no-fly zone as soon as possible” because of the air attacks on rebels, he said.

Dabbashi said a UN resolution is ready if needed.

“Everything is set as a resolution, but there are some countries which still need some more discussion to convince their governments,” he said.

In Cairo, US ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz and other US officials met members of the Libyan opposition, the State Department said without identifying them.

Top European lawmakers called on EU leaders to recognise formally Libya’s opposition and support a no-fly zone, after members of the rebel national council came to the Strasbourg parliament seeking legitimacy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was also to meet council envoys, his office said.

And the heir apparent to Libya’s monarchy, which Gaddafi overthrew in 1969, urged “more action” from the world community.

“I am speaking for all Libyans when I ask for a no-fly zone and targeted air strikes on Gaddafi’s air defences although it would be wrong for troops on the ground and the people of Libya do not want it,” Muhammad al-Senussi said in London.

Oil prices
Oil prices were mixed, though producer countries showed signs of increasing output to counter the effects of turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, analysts said.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April rallied to $116,18, before later pulling back to $115,55, up $2,49 from Tuesday’s closing level.

But New York prices slid after news of a larger-than-expected jump in American crude oil inventories. The main contract, light sweet crude for April, known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), eased 12 cents to $104,90.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier, pledged on Tuesday to meet any needs, but analysts still warned that prices could reach record highs above $200 a barrel.

Foreigners fleeing the violence are still crossing from Libya into Tunisia, though UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gutteres said on Tuesday they were down to fewer than 2 000 people a day because of measures by the Libyan authorities.

Elsewhere, at least 10 people were killed in fighting between Christians and Muslims in Cairo, and fresh clashes broke out between old regime diehards and pro-democracy activists the Egyptian capital’s landmark Tahrir Square.

In Yemen, a supporter of President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in clashes with anti-regime demonstrators in the southern province of Hadramawt, a security official told AFP. — AFP

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