May 18, 2011 in Nation/World

Libyan oil minister latest to defect

Associated Press
 

TRIPOLI, Libya – Another high-ranking Libyan official has defected and fled the country amid a widening NATO campaign of bombings as well as leafletting and other psychological warfare to persuade Moammar Gadhafi’s troops to stop fighting.

Shukri Ghanem, the Libyan oil minister and head of the National Oil Co., crossed into neighboring Tunisia by road on Monday, according to a Tunisian security official and Abdel Moneim al-Houni, a former Libyan Arab League representative who was among the first wave of Libyan diplomats to defect.

The defections suggest Gadhafi’s political structure is fraying, but it’s unclear whether there is enough internal strife to seriously undermine his ability to fight rebel forces as NATO airstrikes pound Libyan military targets. Gadhafi appears to retain the backing of his core of military commanders.

Still, support for Gadhafi seems to be waning in the capital, Tripoli. Pro-regime demonstrations are sparsely attended, even when heavily advertised in advance.

And rebel forces have reported some gains in recent days. In Misrata, the main battleground in western Libya, opposition fighters claim they have driven back government troops from key access points and tried to push pro-Gadhafi gunners out of rocket range for the city.

NATO said Tuesday it would step up psychological warfare operations to try to persuade troops loyal to Gadhafi to abandon the fight.

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