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Tunisian source: Libyan oil minister defects

 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's supporters carrying poster of him react following an airstrike in...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a Libyan soldier stands in front of an official building following an airstrike in Tripoli, Libya...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, an armed man stands in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in Tripoli, Li...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a poster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is seen in a damaged official building following an air...
 In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a poster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is seen in a damaged official building following an air...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's supporters carrying poster of him react following an airstrike in...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a Libyan soldier stands in front of an official building following an airstrike in Tripoli, Libya...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, an armed man stands in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in Tripoli, Li...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, soldiers and civilians gather in front of a burning official building following an airstrike in T...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a poster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is seen in a damaged official building following an air...

Mideast Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a poster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is seen in a damaged official building following an air...

Libya's oil minister defected and fled to Tunisia, a Tunisian security official said Tuesday, one of the highest profile figures to abandon Moammar Gadhafi's government.
Shukri Ghanem, the head of the National Oil Co. and Libya's oil minister, crossed into Tunisia by road on Monday and defected, the Tunisian official said. The official, based in the region around the Ras Jdir border crossing, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Ghanem is one of the most prominent members of Gadhafi's government to leave amid fighting between the military and rebels who are seeking to end Gadhafi's more than 40-year rule.
A NATO-led campaign _ authorized by the United Nations _ is enforcing a no-fly zone over the country and launching airstrikes to try to protect civilians from attacks by Gadhafi's forces.
Early Tuesday, NATO jets pounded two government buildings in the Libyan capital, including the Interior Ministry, setting them on fire. A government spokesman suggested that the ministry was targeted because it contained files on corruption cases against senior members of the Benghazi-based rebel leadership.
Ghanem is among Gadhafi government officials under U.S. sanctions announced by the Treasury Department in early April.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied Monday night that Ghanem had defected. "He is working in his office," he told The Associated Press.
Abdel Moneim al-Houni, a former Libyan Arab League representative who was among the first wave of Libyan diplomats to defect, confirmed that Ghanem had defected but said no official announcement has been made out of concern for the safety of family members who are still in Tripoli. Al-Houni said that he spoke to Ghanem after he crossed the border.
"Most of the officials remaining in Tripoli are forced to stay under intimidation and pressure. They are not happy with what is happening," Al-Houni told the AP.
Guma El-Gamaty, London-based spokesman for the Libyan opposition's Interim National Council, said "all what we know is that Shukri Ghanem is in Tunisia."
In Geneva, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that Libyan authorities appeared to be encouraging African migrants to board unseaworthy boats bound for Europe.
Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters that the Libyan conflict has opened up a route for migrants that was closed for two years because of an agreement between Libya and Italy.
Already some 14,000 people _ mostly from sub-Saharan Africa _ have used Libya as a springboard to reach Europe, and thousands more are poised to make the treacherous sea journey in the coming weeks as weather conditions in the Mediterranean improve.
"The authorities (in Libya) are not discouraging, at all, in fact there may be signs that they are encouraging these boat journeys," she said.
Some are migrants fleeing the fighting in Libya, but others appear to be crossing into Libya from elsewhere in Africa because it is easier to get onto smugglers' boats there.
The latest strikes on Gadhafi's stronghold came just hours after the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor sought arrest warrants for the Libyan leader, his son and the country's intelligence chief for authorizing the killing of civilians in a crackdown on anti-government rebels. Gadhafi's government denied the allegations.
The call for the inquest was the first such action in the Netherlands-based court linked to the Arab uprisings. It opened another potential front against Gadhafi's regime even as the autocratic leader stands firm against widening NATO airstrikes and rebels with growing international backing.
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on Monday in the Netherlands that he was seeking warrants against Gadhafi, his son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi for ordering, planning and participating in illegal attacks. The younger Gadhafi has become one of the public faces of the regime through frequent interviews with the media.
A Libyan government spokesman appealed for a cease-fire and said authorities were likely to release four foreign reporters held in a Tripoli after they face trial in an administrative court, expected later Tuesday.
NATO has stepped up strikes on the Libyan capital Tripoli, and one of the buildings hit early Tuesday was used by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security.
Moussa Ibrahim, the Libyan spokesman. suggested the ministry was targeted because it contained files on rebel leaders in Benghazi, the de-facto capital of the eastern half of the country, which is under opposition control.
"If they (NATO) are really interested in protecting civilians ... then we call upon them to stop and start talking to us," Ibrahim said.
Libyan TV said NATO airstrikes also hit Tajoura, a neighborhood in Tripoli, and Zawiya, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the capital. State TV said a number of people were killed and wounded. It did not elaborate. And there were at least three explosions in Tripoli, apparently aiming fro Gadhafi's compound.
NATO said Tuesday that its warplanes had conducted 136 sorties in the previous 24 hours, with 46 of them aimed at identifying and "engaging" targets.
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Bouazza ben Bouazza reported from Tunis, Tunisia. Associated Press reporter Maggie Michael contributed from Cairo, Egypt.


Updated : 2021-04-16 16:57 GMT+08:00